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Sculpture in the Wild seeing more media coverage, higher visitor counts during coronavirus pandemic

Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild has gained broad national attention this spring and summer as a place to enjoy art and the outdoors through a recent article by CNN Travel, titled "9 of the US's wildest, weirdest and most spectacular outdoor art experiences."

The article, which was shared on news sites from Philadelphia to Nebraska and from Virginia to Wisconsin, has brought new attention to BPSW as a tourist destination that "provides visitors a window into the region's wild landscape, rich culture and industrial history."

BPSW has also appeared on other travel services, like Trip Advisor.

A recent article in Distinctly Montana calls BPSW "must see...a uniquely Montana, interactive art experience." This same article details the "outdoor, yet personal scale - spacious and tactile" quality of the sculptures and highlights the family-friendly nature of the outdoor space and sculptures.

A Missoulian article that came out just after Montana's stay-at-home order was lifted this spring touted BPSW as a prime social-distancing location, stating, "You'd have to go out of your way to run into any other people, let alone get within six feet of them."

"For the most part, people didn't have a lot to do and needed to get out. And it is a wonderful place to get out and let the kids run around and mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. It's a great place for families to get together. It's great to watch everyone respect everyone else's distance," said Becky Garland, BPSW board president. "Especially March, April, and May, with COVID just ramping up."

A new short video produced by CosmicCine showcases sweeping shots of the sculptures, including the newest additions in 2019 by artists Alison Stigora and Stuart Frost. The video wasn't commissioned by BPSW, but "people are finding it and having fun with it," Garland said.

Signs for the sculptures by Stigora and Frost featuring photos of the artists near their sculptures, as well as their artist's statements, have recently been installed.

Due to COVID-19, this year's events at BPSW have been canceled. Artists Bently Spang's and Michael Brolly's residencies have been moved to 2021. Despite this, visitors have flocked to visit the sculptures. On weekends the parking area is full and vehicles line the driveway.

"The thing is just kind of running itself, other than us cleaning it," said Gary Moseman, secretary of the BPSW board. "It's way busier than normal," he said, adding the number of visitors over the three-day Fourth of July holiday weekend rose from 500 to 700 people per day.

"Since the first of the year, we've had approximately 30,000 people through the park. Last year, our total was about 35,000 or 36,000," said Garland. She added that over the course of a week, the BPSW averages about 264 people per day.

Since September 2016, when the counter was installed, 105,000 people have been counted through the main entrance by the parking lot. "That's not even counting the people that come in the back way," Garland said. "There's a lot of locals that use the back way. It's getting used and people are enjoying it. We don't have any vandalism or anything like that. It's really wonderful to see how people like and respect it."

"It has become a kind of destination place," Moseman said, noting that when he refills the brochure kiosk, "it's amazing how much material we're going through. It's way more than usual."

Garland credited Moseman, Laura Butler and Wanda Owen with keeping BPSW up for visitors. "They'll go out there three or four times a day and wipe the toilets down and just the surfaces that people touch a lot. And keep everything stuffed. Most people come there to view Sculpture in the Wild or walk through Sculpture in the Wild, but there are some people that do just stop by to use the restroom. We try to keep it clean for everyone, for sure," said Garland.

The donation box, called the Iron Ranger, has also seen an increase in use. "We've emptied it numerous times this summer, and that's not usually the case," said Moseman.


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