OROVILLE – Oroville’s Main Street has been quietly transforming over the past few weeks.
49º North Artists (www.49NorthArtists.com) is filling empty storefront windows with public art displays, creating a two-block long public art gallery.
The new artists’ collective has titled this project “Art on the Line,” reflecting both their mission to support local creative enterprises along the 49th Parallel, and their mission to reboot local confidence and pride in a community that increasingly feels like its future prosperity is ‘on the line.’
In a region shaken by shifting economic landscapes, 49º North Artists believes that the abundance of local professional artists – on both sides of the border – represents an untapped and underutilized industry.
Public art encourages pedestrian activity, and creates an attractive space where people want to stop and linger. In a place like Oroville, which sees half a million southbound travelers stream through the border each year, “stop and linger” is a powerful economic boon.
Storefront projects like “Art on the Line” have been succesfully adopted by other small, rural communities with declining economies and dilapidated dowtowns. In such cases, those communities have found public art displays to effectively leverage the town’s creative potential, by engaging local identity and nurturing a distinctive sense of place.
The result? New ideas are stimulated, and new investment comes to town.
If you haven’t walked through Oroville’s downtown recently, it might be time to make the trip. In the old bank building on Main Street, you’ll find an impressive display of wood sculpture by Dan Hulphers of Molson, as well as modern cairns of recycled antique glass by former Oroville resident, Delia Severin. The Gazette-Tribune windows feature hand-colored historic maps of the north Okanogan, donated by 49º North Artists sponsor and member Lisa Middleton of Kalispell, MT (not quite as local, but close enough to the 49th Parallel to be one of us!).
Along 14th Ave, across from the Camaray Motel, windows are teeming with landscape and wildlife photography by Justin Haug of Loomis. Next door, the old laundromat building now features stunning paintings by Judith Moses of Keller, WA.
49º North Artists isn’t stopping there. Soon, the windows of the former Plaza building will be full of paintings by George Traicheff, of Okanogan Falls. Oroville’s own Jim Weaver will fill the windows of the Dental Clinic with his masterful watercolors. The Oroville Trading Post will soon see the art of local metal-working wizards in its Main Street windows.
“By bringing artists and empty storefronts together, 49º North Artists is acting on the principal that art encourages people to imagine a different, better future”, says Daniel Klayton, project coordinator, web designer, and resident window-washer and heavy-lifter.
“We’re operating within a five-year plan to foster the arts industry in the region. This includes a local gallery, which we aim to open in 2017, and our five-year goal of an annual three-day, world-class arts festival.”
“It’s easy to look at empty windows and shuttered businesses, and see trouble or lost opportunities,” Klayton notes, “but at 49º North Artists we choose to see those as blank canvasses. And there’s nothing as exciting or full of possibility as a blank canvass, when you’ve got a palette of paint and the drive to create.”