When I first moved to Billings in the late 90s, I lived at the corner of 6th and Howard, with the 6th Street underpass just two blocks away. I drove that route daily and other than flooding every time there is heavy rain, there wasn't really anything remarkable about the busy interchange of Central Ave, Montana Ave and 6th Street and State Avenue.

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The intersection can be somewhat confusing if you are new to town with multiple roadways, bridges, train tracks, on-ramps and merge lanes all converging in one area. It had to be a challenging project for highway engineers when it was first built. Until recently, the underpass was nothing but dark, grey concrete. That changed this summer when local artist Elyssa Leininger took on the massive task of painting a 2,000+ square foot mural on the walls of the underpass.

Credit: Elyssa Leininger ~ used with permission
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I caught up with Elyssa on my radio show today (listen to the full interview below) to find out more about her experience working on the mural, titled "Rise and Shine." Leininger, a Central High and Rocky Mountain College graduate submitted the winning bid to take on the mural earlier this year and spent over 1,000 hours working on the giant painting, which depicts various wildlife and landscape scenery native to the Billings area. Volunteers helped with much of the prep-work, primer coat and some of the larger swaths of the painting, when she directed a "paint by numbers" approach to the team of volunteers.

Credit: Elyssa Leininger ~ used with permission

The project was made possible by a grant from Big Sky Economic Development Council and the Billings South Side Neighborhood Task Force in addition to donations from local businesses. Working from sunrise to sunset, Elyssa encountered 100's of people who would drop off coffees, snacks, words of support and even a bag of tacos.

Credit: Elyssa Leininger ~ used with permission

One day, a transient gave her his last $4. Billings PD would frequently stop by to check in on her. I asked her if she was concerned about graffiti or vandals destroying the work and she said Sherwin Williams provided a high-tech, $200 per gallon, silicone type coating that resists damage, helps protect the color and can be cleaned fairly easily. Click below to hear the interview.


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