Is it artwork that provides energy or an energy source that’s artsy?
Either is accurate when describing a solar mural, a large solar panel that not only functions but also features a colorful design in place of the usual blue tiles.
The goal? To show that sustainability can be beautiful, according to Candra Day, president of Vista 360°, the nonprofit working to bring a solar mural — something that has been done in only one other city in the world — to Jackson.
The solar mural was a vision of Land Art Generator, an organization that brings clean energy infrastructure to public spaces in creative, inspirational and educational ways.
Vista 360° and Day are working with the international Land Art Generator to design and install the next solar mural here in the valley by the summer of 2021.
“Our mission is to help strengthen mountain communities and protect mountain places, and of course sustainability is crucial to that mission,” Day says of Vista 360°. “How can we learn to be more energy wise, how can we adapt the technologies that are available to protect our environment, and how can we work together to do that are all key.”
Since its founding in 2003, Vista 360° has worked largely on cultural exchange: helping women artisans in Kyrgyzstan sell their handmade items in Europe and North America, taking Rocky Mountain cowboys to ride with the nomads of Central Asia, and bringing Japan’s Yoshida Fire Festival to Jackson Hole.
While Vista 360° already has a focus on arts and culture, the venture into renewable energy is new. It is planning to hold a community design process for the solar mural over the next few months, including public “Exercise Your Imagination” workshops to develop an idea for the art and a competition to decide which local artist will design an image to be printed on a layer of film that will be placed atop the panel.
Day hopes to have a design concept decided by January, an artist and a design chosen by February and the mural up and running by July.
It would be the world’s third Land Art Generator solar mural. The first, “La Monarca,” was installed in San Antonio in 2017. It pictures an artsy monarch butterfly to celebrate the city’s status as the National Wildlife Federation’s first Monarch Butterfly Champion City.
A second solar mural, also in San Antonio, hangs on the side of JT Brackenridge Elementary School and displays photos of the class of 1906 and a contemporary group of students.
While Jackson Hole has its usual icons — the mountains, the wildlife, the elk antler arches — Day hope to come up with something new that still represents the region: the Jackson equivalent to San Antonio’s monarchs.
“We represent ourselves with those symbols over and over and over again,” she says. “I’m hoping we come up with something new that will make people identify immediately with it, but it won’t be the same image that we’ve drawn so accustomed to. I want it to be something fresh.”
The mural will not only be beautiful, it will also align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11 to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
“We don’t talk very much about the sustainable development goals in the United States,” Day says, “but they’re very prominent in other parts of the world. People are really working toward them, and so we’re trying to introduce that language and those ideas to Jackson Hole.”
The solar mural is expected to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of one large home every year for the next thirty years.
As for where in Jackson Hole the solar mural will be sited, scouting is in the works. It will be mobile to begin with, so it could float between the North Cache visitor center, the Center for the Arts, Snow King Mountain and elsewhere before settling into a final home.
Vista 360° is working to fund the project through grants. The 66-by-40-inch solar mural isn’t cheap — it will cost around $30,000 between consulting, materials and construction — but Day hopes that one day they will become common.
“The dream is to create several of them so that they’re around town in public places and they become symbolic of sustainability in Jackson,” she says.
She also hopes the project will allow Vista 360° to work with Land Art Generator in the future to make Jackson Hole a site of one of the organization’s international design competitions for sustainable artwork.
Email email@example.com for information on becoming a designer, artist or solar energy advocate. Visit LandArtGenerator.org to read about the group and to see some of its past projects and competition concepts for combining sustainable practices with public art.