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First Night is returning to Missoula after the COVID year of 2020. A year ago, we were all sequestered in our homes on New Year’s Eve, and while we were able to watch the annual Spotlight High School singing competition virtually, we were not able to ring in the new year as a community, as we had done for 25 years. We are excited to see this annual festival make a comeback.

The tradition of First Night – the New Year’s Eve community-building celebration of the arts – began in Boston in 1975, as a way of bringing the local community together to celebrate itself, the arts, and the passage of time. The success of First Night Boston led to similar community celebrations throughout the nation, as well as in Canada, Europe and as far away as New Zealand. By the time of Y2K (remember that?), there were over 200 First Night celebrations around the world. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, followed by the Great Recession of 2008-09, several First Night communities stopped producing these festivals. Today fewer than 30 First Nights are still in operation. Happily, Missoula’s is one of those still standing.

We began planning First Night 2022 in the spring, not knowing what December would bring. Thus, the event is smaller in scale than in the past, occurring mostly in the Downtown, with First Night Headquarters at the Missoula Public Library. Throughout the day there will be ice carving outside the AC Hotel. Beginning at noon there will be First Night events at Glacier Ice Rink, Currents Aquatic Center, and the Roxy Theater. At 3:00 pm, the Library will be hosting family events at SpectrUM, Families First, and MCAT. Throughout the afternoon and evening, there will be music, dance, comedy, the First Night Spotlight high school vocal competition, a watercolor painting class, the annual Peace Luminaria, an Iron Foundry performance entitled “Blossoms on Blossoms”, all occurring at venues throughout the Downtown. We’re asking everyone to wear masks and respect each other as well as the venue hosts. We are a community, after all, and I’m sure we can once again ring in the new year collectively in a safe and sane manner.

The past two years have been difficult ones for all of us. Many of our friends and loved ones have been lost to COVID. Others of us have needed to find new employment, or radically change how and where we work. First Night Missoula gives us all hope for the new year.

From all of us at Arts Missoula, have a happy and healthy 2022!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Bensen has been the executive director of Arts Missoula since June 2004. Before then he spent seven and a half years as director of First Night Missoula.  You can read more about him here.

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Earlier this year, Arts Missoula and Montana Book Festival teamed up to request people’s cheesiest, most-Hallmark-wannabe holiday movie pitches. After careful review of the hilarious, bad-in-a-good-way submissions, we have our winner!

Rebecca Ashcraft of Polson, MT submitted the winning pitch: “Walking in a Vintner Wonderland.” Congratulations, Rebecca, and thank you for bringing us some joy this holiday season!

Part of the prize for the winner was a movie poster based on the pitch. We were also lucky enough to tape Rebecca reading the pitch! The poster, the video, and the pitch are below.


“When her Olympic skier boyfriend calls off their engagement before a Christmas trip to Vail, Julie Swansong swears off winter sports forever and books a solo holiday trip to sunny Napa Valley, California. But Mother Nature has matchmaking plans, awakening Julie’s midwestern instincts by dumping five feet of snow on the vineyard resort where she’s staying.

Julie helps Rocco, the winery’s impossibly handsome owner, shovel snowdrifts from his tractionless sportscar and precious grapevines, then shows him how to prevent frozen water pipes. But she faces a much slipperier slope while falling in love as they frolic in the snow for the rest of her stay. Should she teach him how to build a snowman that doesn’t look like it was thrown together by an angry toddler? She aches to introduce him to ice skating, but isn’t that a gateway activity to ski lessons?

Her frozen heart is definitely beginning to melt, but Julie is older than she was at Thanksgiving, and understands that relationships face extinction approximately every four years. While she’s grateful to global warming for bringing them together, Julie fears her newfound hottie may prove coördinated enough to someday qualify for an Olympic event. Can she find the strength to start this journey by leaving Rocco’s defective snowmen alone?”

Winning pitch's movie poster. Features woman with dark hair looking confused next to handsome man with dark hair holding a wine glass in front of a snowy vineyard. Says: "Napa Valley has never been so cold... But maybe Rocco can thaw Julie's frozen heart in time for Christmas?"

About Rebecca: Rebecca Ashcraft worked as a nurse for 35 years, secretly writing on the side and stuffing her laptop’s cyber-drawers with word combinations in every imaginable genre, before retiring and moving to Polson, Montana. She should be used to the area’s breathtaking beauty by now, but is still that neighbor who runs to the window when honking geese fly overhead, slams on the brakes to take pictures of bored deer lounging on lawns, and remains baffled on a daily basis by her great good luck.

Contest winner Rebecca Ashcraft stands in front of Christmas tree in Arts Missoula office alongside Arts Missoula staff and one of the judges.

Left to right: winner Rebecca Ashcraft, Arts Missoula Office Manager Breanne, competition judge Marcia Holland, Arts Missoula Executive Director Tom Bensen. In front: Arts Missoula Development Director Magda Chaney

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We promise that we’re smiling under our masks! 🙂

As we approach the longest night of the year, and the end of 2021, Arts Missoula, Global and Cultural Affairs, SPARK! Arts and Lacey wanted to be sure to wish everyone a warm, happy holiday season.

This holiday season, we are so thankful for the support we receive from the Missoula community and our sponsors. We feel so lucky to be a part of the arts and culture community in Missoula. Honestly, we are grateful for it every day of the year, but this feels like a particularly important moment to express gratitude for our exceptional luck.

We love Missoula, and take our role in the community seriously. With that in mind, instead of New Year’s “Resolutions”, here are a few things that we’re excited to continue doing in 2022:

1.) Providing in-depth cultural competency education for Missoula children K-12 in addition to providing opportunities for the wider Missoula community to expand their cultural knowledge — all free of cost.

2.) Awarding grants to local artists so they can continue living and working in Missoula.

3.) Working with SPARK! to ensure equitable access to the arts and facilitate arts experiences for all MCPS children grades K-8.

4.) Keep supporting local organizations like MAMA and the Montana Book Festival through our Incubator Program.

5.) Putting on events like Germanfest, First Night, and the Arts Missoula Speaker Series.

6.) Helping to promote local arts and culture events through our weekly e-newsletter.

That’s just the broad strokes of some things we do, and things we’re excited to keep doing in 2022. We hope you’ll join us in the New Year as we carry on cultivating arts and culture in Missoula. You can become a monthly supporter and help sustain our work by clicking here.

Happy Holidays!


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