Explore: Public Art

JH Public Art

Take an urban public art walk, and please sit on the swings and benches along the way—they’re the ultimate in functional art. 

// By Sam Simma

A brightly painted chairlift in downtown Jackson might seem random, but in this mountain town, there’s nothing nonsensical about turning retired chairlifts from Snow King Ski Area into public art. Each chair is fun to look at and also functions as either a bench or a swing. Largescale murals in downtown alleyways aren’t as obviously functional, but they share conservation themes while encouraging viewers to pause for a photo op. 

Jackson’s Town Square is full of art galleries, there is a free outdoor sculpture trail at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, and the nonprofit Jackson Hole Public Art has installations across the valley. But a new public art project, Square to Summit, and an ongoing one, WildWalls, make the downtown-to-Snow-King corridor a wonderful outdoor art walk. 

“Snow King is important to our community for a lot of reasons,” says Carrie Geraci, executive director of JH Public Art, a local nonprofit that places temporary and permanent artworks in public spaces so that art may be more accessible to all. When the resort—the first ski area in the state of Wyoming (it opened in 1939), which locals today call the “Town Hill”—replaced its Summit Chair with an eight-passenger gondola in 2021, Ryan Stanley, the resort’s president, offered to set aside 25 of the Summit chairlifts for a public art project. (The rest of the chairs were sold or donated to other nonprofits.) 

“The benches and swings invite people to sit together and have a conversation or to step outside from your busy office day and eat your lunch in the fresh air.”

—Carrie Geraci, executive director, JH Public Art

“Having the opportunity to partner on this installation has been a positive and rewarding experience that brings together private and public resources in the best possible outcome for everyone to enjoy,” Geraci says. In total, over 30 local businesses and organizations came together to bring the project, which debuted last summer, to fruition. The 25 donated chairs were repurposed into colorful swings and benches, and form a walking corridor from downtown Jackson to the Snow King summit—hence the project’s name, Square to Summit.

Painted vibrant hues ranging from blue to yellow, the chairs channel alpenglow colors. “In the winter, it’s all the shades of light reflecting off the snow,” Geraci says. “And in the summer, miraculously, the alpenglow colors are the colors of our wildflowers.” All of the chairs have views of Snow King and many are on Cache Street. “There are a few off the Cache Street corridor—for example, one on Center Street that looks straight up at Snow King—but in general, we wanted people to be able to walk along and feel an element of surprise and discovery when they came across another bench,” Geraci says.

As you walk around downtown Jackson, sit and relax on as many of these as you want. At each, there’s signage sharing a snippet of the town hill’s history, imagery from the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum, and recognition of the project’s sponsors. Also around the Square are three murals, each as eye-catching as the swings: The Time in Place, Hooked, and Knowledge is Protection. These murals are part of JH Public Art’s WildWalls program, an annual event during which permanent and temporary wheatpasted murals sharing conservation messages are created in iconic public settings throughout Jackson.

When you are finished with these murals, start again following the chairs, which lead south toward Snow King. When construction on Snow King’s summit is complete (in 2025), six swings will stand at the top (as of this past spring, two of these had been placed). If a trip to the summit isn’t in the cards for you, four chairs are installed at the base of the mountain.

“I love the social and health benefits that public art can inspire, too.”

—Carrie Geraci, executive director, JH Public Art

Photo by Bradly J. Boner

1. Katy Ann Fox painted The Time in Place—larger-than-life wildflowers popping against a purple backdrop on an exterior wall of Trio Bistro (45 S. Glenwood St.)—for WildWalls 2021. Commissioned by Trio Bistro and The Nature Conservancy, the mural is inspired by the latter’s wildlife project, which documents how climate change is affecting wildflowers in certain areas.

Photo by Bradly J. Boner

2. Hooked, by Dan Toro, highlights the Snake River watershed, which is foundational to the overall health of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and provides key wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and clean drinking water for thousands. On the side of Snake River Brewing, the mural is a collaboration between the brewery and Protect Our Water JH, an organization addressing the issue of nutrient pollution in the surface waters and ground water of Teton County. 

Photo by Kathryn Ziesig

3. Helen Seay’s Knowledge is Protection mural, in a Pearl Street alley adjacent to Shirt Off My Back, was co-sponsored by Grand Teton National Park Foundation. “Bears, bear safety, and traveling in bear country are topics near and dear to my heart,” Seay says. Commissioned as part of WildWalls 2022, the mural leverages augmented reality features to promote a greater understanding and awareness of the region’s ecosystem. JH

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