SPOKANE, Wash. — An exhibition that celebrates an historic 133-mile stretch of State Route 26 will run from Jan. 24 to May 2 at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The exhibit is a collaboration between the museum and Washington State University students.
SR-26, stretching from Colfax to Vantage in eastern Washington, might seem an uninteresting stretch of routine highway linking farm fields and the Columbia River. Neither the American Automobile Association nor the Washington State Bureau of Tourism makes any mention of the 133-mile highway in their travel guidebooks.
So, why will this stretch of road be the focus of a four-month exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane?
“Imagine a 133-mile long museum,” says Paul Hirzel, associate professor in the WSU School of Architecture and Construction Management. Through a series of proposals by his students for a “museum” along the highway, the exhibit aims to increase awareness of its dramatic landscapes and residents. Many of the features that represent the beauty of eastern Washington are crossed by SR-26 – from evidence of dramatic geological events, to historical trails, to diverse social, biological and agricultural zones, Hirzel said. “Challenged to uncover the subtleties of the landscape, students endeavored to look beyond the prosaic surface of asphalt and lines and discover the hidden wonders of the highway. The result is a series of interventions that take viewers through the histories, myths, geologies, forms and politics of the highway.
“The SR-26 project is an exhibition that challenges its audience to explore the landscape with a curious mind and discover the magic in the everyday.”
One project, for instance, is a proposal for a series of flood-lit balloon towers, marking the water depth of the Great Missoula Flood that washed over the highway thousands of years ago. Another project invents “SR-26 Road Radio.” The proposal would allow drivers to hear the sounds of SR-26 as they travel. These include “solo artists” of passing windmills or irrigation sprinklers with a “rhythm section’’ of mile markers, reflector strips and telephone poles. Another proposal calls for development of a park, where visitors can experience patterns of glowing cow paths.
With nearly 10,000 college students regularly driving the road from the Westside to Pullman, Hirzel sees the idea of a linear museum as a potentially tremendous learning opportunity. After all, the students are a captive audience, trapped for two hours as they make their way across the landscape. The exhibit also hopes to encourage economic development of communities along SR-26.
“The proposals, which enhance these unique conditions of eastern Washington, provide a wonderful opportunity to engage and teach,’’ he said.