The inspiration for turning mine waste into a work of art came to Butte native Olivia Everett while she was trying to understand the Parrot corridor.
Everett is the creative director of Imagine Butte Resource Center, 68 W. Park Street, which is home to an exhibit called A Watershed Moment. The exhibit contains dirt, heavy metals and maps drawn on the walls.
It’s designed to help educate the public on one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites – which Butte sits upon -- and one that is so complex, regular citizens can have difficulty digesting it. The Parrot corridor, for example, is a stretch of underground and surface level mine waste that runs from the Butte Civic Center to near Montana Street.
The exhibit’s maps, including watershed maps, are drawn by IBRC volunteers onto the gallery walls. They show how Butte’s water issues fit into the bigger picture of rivers and streams in western Montana.
A sculpture by Butte artist Dark Sevier features a satellite dish pulled from a Dumpster. Called “Circumference,” the dish contains contaminated dirt from the Northside tailings, which is surface mine waste in the Parrot corridor.
The piece is also growing.
Mixed in the dirt are bones, bottles, shoes, pottery shards, and other detritus Sevier found while digging at the tailings site in early May. Bunches of grass are growing from the mine waste.
Sevier said visitors have expressed a sense of nostalgia when looking at his piece.
“‘It looks like the dirt I used to play in as a kid’ is the comment I’ve gotten,” Sevier said.
Montana Tech graduate student David Hutchins’ sculpture, “Parts Per Million,” demonstrates what parts per million actually looks like. State and federal agencies use the term as a system of measurement to describe amounts of metal contamination in the soil, but few nonscientists can grasp what it really means.
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Hutchins’ sculpture sports vials of metals — iron, aluminum, lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, copper and cobalt — in different sizes to help visitors visualize what the system of measurement means.
“It’s a process of learning on both sides,” Hutchins said. “The language of scientists and artists can be accessible.”
Everett’s vision with this exhibit is to put Superfund language, which can seem foreign for the average citizen, into terms everyone can understand.
“I want to facilitate this dialogue,” she said.
This exhibit is a window to a larger project Everett has for a work of art expected to go on the Northside tailings.
Through Everett’s Eye/Land Institute, Everett, Hutchins and Sevier are expected to receive a $30,000 grant from the Butte Natural Resource Damage Council to create art at Northside tailings. Gov. Steve Bullock makes the final decision on this and other BNRC small grants’ proposals in June.
Everett wants to enable Butte residents to gain a sense of connection to a place — Northside tailings — which are not especially inviting in its current state.
By turning mine waste into art, the three are trying to be a part of Butte’s restoration from more than 100 years of mining damage.
“The scientific language makes me half blind,” Sevier said. “The obfuscation of the problem makes it hard to understand. I want to help be part of the solution.”