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By Jake Kreilick

Missoulians, particularly those who can remember the 1980s, have experienced the gradual transformation of our downtown into the vibrant place it is today. While our streets, parks and storefronts have all seen remarkable improvements over the past 30 years, the tolerant vibe that permeates through our community existed long before I set foot here. I would argue as a 36-year resident that the primary driver behind Missoula’s social ethos is our unwavering devotion to and support for arts and culture.

It doesn’t take someone who moves here very long to figure out that we enjoy a surplus of amenity values. They represent the best of our town – be it our interwoven social fabric, our bedazzling physical environment or the rich cultural heritage that our indigenous populations offer. Our citizenry’s affinity for artistic endeavors around countless creative activities is matched by its appreciation and support of other cultures – BIG SHOUT OUT TO SOFT LANDING – making Missoula one of the most welcoming community in the American West.

A community that values its arts and its culture is made up of open-minded, curious people who are accepting of different races, religions and lifestyles. This is a big reason why Missoula is one of the top towns in the U.S. for support of the arts. 

Even more integral to our social makeup, Missoula is full of activists of all persuasions and many non-profit organizations who value the progressive vibe and the cordial atmosphere. I am an environmental activist who continues to fight for our wild places and our wildest animals –  we still have lots of Montana that is worth fighting for! Missoula is ideally situated and is a gateway between the human and the natural world.

It’s good to live in a community where the promotion of the arts and the desire to understand other cultures and perspectives is so front and center. No doubt it helps that we have the University of Montana here and all the great departments, programs, entertainment, sports, etc. – it is also what brought me to Montana in the fall of 1985 to attend the Environmental Studies Program. I really enjoyed my time at UM but what kept me here was the characteristics of Missoulians and their predilections for books, music, dance, theatre, clay, craft beer, intellectual debate and a hunger to keep this amazing blue green planet safe and sound.

Missoulians have never been shy to share their thoughts and feelings about the world around them. I often detected in my conversations with friends and acquaintances a “Don’t Mourn – Organize” mindset that not only lent urgency to issues and campaigns but created an intense camaraderie. I’ve always appreciated Missoula for being retro hip and for the interesting collection of individuals who live here because they genuinely value the role arts and culture play in our merry, merry not so little town.

So yes that #4 MT license plate does mean something and we as a community are proud to show it off. I’m sure there are lots of Missoulians out there with similar experiences and sentiments so don’t hesitate to reach out to Arts Missoula and share them with us.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jake Kreilick and his wife Heather own Lake Missoula Tea Company in downtown Missoula. He holds a B.A. in History from Wittenberg University and a M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. He is a long-time player and coach for the Missoula All Maggots Rugby Football Club and currently serves on the Arts Missoula Board of Directors.

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By Melissa Blunt

I know New Year’s Eve 2021 is but a memory at this point, but I’ve been compelled to return to that night’s memory for the glow I still feel that it offered me and all the other attendees of Arts Missoula’s First Night celebration.

In one word, it was connection. Or community, or maybe even e pluribus unum. And how rare is that in the world these days, even in Missoula!?

First, if you don’t know about Arts Missoula’s annual First Night celebration, or have known about it but avoided it for whatever reason, I’m here to say that it is the quintessential celebration of community – of our amazing community of artists and musicians and all variety of other creative endeavors like ice carvers, cooking instructors, puppet makers, mimes, dancers, and even some kind of iron fireworks which I unfortunately missed.

And the amazing thing is, its all put on in/around our beloved downtown simply for the attendees or participants enjoyment on New Year’s Eve – to celebrate Missoula! It’s a one-night showcase of the best Missoula offers – what makes us proud of Missoula’s stature as one of the most culturally and artistically vibrant towns in the country.

At the evening gala finale at the new Library (thanks to them!!!) dancing to the World-Class Ed Norton Big Band, the kids were showing off their ballroom dancing skills (think Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire) while some of us older folk were holding held each other up on the dancefloor, but together we all danced our way into 2022.

And everyone was masked – everywhere I went!! No problem.

At each venue I was thrilled to see the mix of demographics, from young kids, high school and college students, middle-aged folk and old timers like me, and everyone from all walks of life. Everyone entranced by whatever we were watching. All sharing the same vibe, the same pride, and the same appreciation for what we were experiencing.

So that to me is the key, that we were all CONNECTED by the experience, even though if we saw each other on the street, we would be strangers, and in some cases, not of the same political or economic persuasion.

So that is the beauty of First Night – we are all connected through art, live performance, surprised by talent here among us. Creative art is a common universal language. Each of us, in our most basic instinct, responds to the creative… by experiencing someone being totally vulnerable in performance, and the elation we feel by experiencing something that we alone could never produce, like a dance move that we physically could never do, or a vocal pitch that is exhilarant.

Let First Night Missoula bring us together in this common language.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Following a 30-year career traveling the world as an educational tour operator from her home base in Missoula, Melissa now dedicates time supporting the arts in Missoula as a current board member of Arts Missoula, and previously as a member of the Missoula Symphony and Dolce Canto boards, and as Executive Director of the International Choral Festival.


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