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SPEARFISH | Following months of planning and partnerships, paint was being applied to several crosswalks in the community last week in an effort to bring a bit of color to downtown streets.

“Painted crosswalks are a fun way of bringing some creativity to our community, making our streets more interesting,” Elizabeth Freer, ArtCentral manager for the Matthews Opera House, said during a break from painting last Wednesday. “We’ve received really, really positive response from this project. People drive by and stop to say, 'This is fantastic.' It’s kept us going in the heat, for sure.”

When completed, abstract designs will adorn four crosswalks at West Grant and Canyon streets. Another, with a fish theme designed by the Matthews’ Jayne Rose, will grace a crosswalk near the city park, while still another is planned for the campus of Black Hills State University, Freer said.

The crosswalk project, spearheaded by Freer, BHSU art professor Michael Baum, and city planner Jayna Watson, has come to include a dozen volunteers, some who arrived early morning, contributed what they could, then headed into work covered in sunscreen, Freer laughed.

Funded through a two-year, $200,000 Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant, the painted crosswalks are just one component in an overall plan designed to incorporate art in the Northern Hills town, Freer explained.

“We had a plan, and the design is to innovate in the community,” she said. “This is about creating and strengthening partnerships.”

Last February, crews removed artwork from the Matthews Gallery, covered about half the space in cardboard, and invited locals to delve into “Cardboard Chaos,” and be creative with paint. The “Linking Fences” project is decorating Spearfish fences with artwork, some as large as 8-by-16 feet, Freer said.

The latter, ongoing project already has involved dozens of BHSU art students, youngsters from Creekside Elementary School, church groups and even nursery school children, she said. A bike tour is being planned for August in which participants would visit each of the installations, Freer said.

In addition, ArtCentral has teamed up with the Northern Hills Rotary Club, which provided a $1,000 grant to stage a film series in Spearfish this winter. All of these efforts are intended to bring art in its many forms to Spearfish, while creating long-lasting partnerships, Freer noted.

The Matthews’ ArtCentral projects, “all of which have been embraced by the city,” have evolved to include collaborations among 10 community organizations and entities, including BHSU, the City of Spearfish, the school system, CASA, and the local library.

So, why go to all the work?

“Art matters,” Freer said. “When it comes down to it, art brings communities together. The presence of art in a community is an economic driver; it’s proven that towns that embrace the arts are growing communities.

“There’s something amazing about Spearfish, and there is a reason why it continues to grow,” she added. “Art helps create jobs at theaters and art galleries, and for musicians. Some look at art as an extra, but they’re driving by these crosswalks and saying, 'That’s really cool.’

“There’s really no way we can lose by simply putting some paint in a crosswalk.”

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