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The Arts have the power to SPARK! imagination, ignite innovation through creativity, and excite and transform learning. SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning envisions that every student receives a quality, comprehensive arts education that includes all art forms delivered in a variety of ways; and that the Arts are an essential part of every school day.  

Equitable access to arts education opportunities positively impact our children’s lives. I have witnessed first-hand this transformative power of the arts. I was observing an arts lesson that introduced clay, in which students were expected to create a sculpture representing nature. As I looked across the room, a refugee student was excelling at the lesson, creating a beautiful, intricate birds nest. He was so engaged, engrossed even. And as he worked so naturally with clay, other students were drawn to him, began to recognize his talents and skills, admire and compliment him on his art work, and saw this student in a light they had not before. No longer was there a language barrier – because art has no one language. In that short period of time, I was able to see the arts break down barriers, increase communication even without language, and increase this students’ confidence. I saw the arts fuel critical thinking skills, express emotions, and create awareness of not only the world around, but of each other.  

During this time, when students are facing social-emotional deficits and many face mental health crisis, the arts empower students to process and understand the world, express emotions, grieve, share and connect to each other and themselves, and heal. The arts hold the power, if only we are gifted the access and opportunities. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sienna Solberg is the Director of SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning. SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning is a collective-impact initiative of the Kennedy Center and is administered through Arts Missoula.

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As Missoula, along with countless communities across the globe, is  “getting back to normal” following 2 years of a worldwide pandemic, its become even more clear how prominent arts & culture are in our daily lives. With the return of concerts, live theater, film festivals and countless other arts & cultural related events currently in the planning stages for a big return this summer, there seems to be a bit of a buzz around our little mountain city.  Seeing and hearing individuals thrilled to plan for summer events and organizations excited to bring new & improved annual events back to life, the excitement is palpable, which has been a reminder to me of how fortunate we are in Missoula to have access to the arts.

Access to the arts offers a rich experience that can truly shape our lives & our community, allows us to see the world beyond our own front door, our neighborhood or our own city and can inform ones view of the world. The arts allow us to understand the experience and point of view of others with whom we may not otherwise connect.  But can you imagine a community without direct access to arts & culture?

With the immense access we have to arts and culture in Missoula, it might be hard to believe that many communities across Montana lack access to arts and culture (for a variety of factors). Art & culture is more than a painting on a wall, a beautiful sculpture, a play, a dance performance or a foreign film.  Art & culture can build and connect a community, as is the case in Missoula. Our thriving arts & cultural scene has been created and nourished by the countless art related organizations, art supporters and individual artists across our city. 

Arts Missoula is a vital part of the arts & culture in Missoula, here to support other arts related organizations with our incubator program, supporting individual artists with our artist grant program, introducing future artists and arts leaders to art through SPARK! Arts and providing a window to the world through varied programming by Arts Missoula Global.  With Missoula Gives just around the corner, May 5th & 6th, we all have the opportunity to show our arts & cultural organizations how much we value them. If you agree that arts & culture indeed shape our lives and our community I urge you to give to those organizations, including Arts Missoula, that have created and continue to nourish our vibrant city.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heidi Starrett is an Advertising Executive at Missoula Broadcasting Company, a locally-owned and operated radio company. Heidi has served on the Arts Missoula board since 2016 and continues to be inspired by other board members, staff and local artists who share a sense of passion for the arts community in Missoula.

In addition to the Arts Missoula board, Starrett also serves on the Missoula Downtown Association and City Club Missoula boards. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, attending live concerts, biking, cross country skiing and attending a plethora of Downtown events.

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I am just plopping onto my couch after a long day of work.

Lately at the end of my workdays, I’ve been braindead. Just trying to cram in two shows and multiple separate projects, balanced extremely thoughtfully.

But today, as I enter my post-work hours, I am feeling rejuvenated and inspired.

Because today was the first day of our MCPS BIPOC Student Mural Program.

We have eight students all from different ethnic backgrounds, and for some of them, this is the first time talking in depth with strangers about their culture.

Today in class, when asked if they felt confident about their cultural identity 6/8 students said that they don’t.

The goal of this project is that 8/8 of these students finish this mural program saying that “YES,” they feel confident about their cultural identity, and that they leave with leadership skills to help others feel confident too.

The reason why many of us feel uncomfortable or unconfident about how we identity is because we learn that we need to codeswitch. We separate our cultural selves—our at home with friends and family selves—from our public spaces selves.

And I can’t help but wonder if this is the first public space that some of these students are being asked to talk about their culture, what their home lives look like, and whether or not they see themselves represented in our public Missoula spaces.

Which by the way, 8/8 students said they do not feel like their culture is publicly represented in Missoula.

Today was just the first day exploring these questions with local youth, and by the end of this program, I am hoping that we will have confident students ready to make the change that we all want to see—which is more of us advocating for our cultures and being mentors for our Missoula BIPOC communities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: April Werle is the daughter of an immigrant Pinay and third-generation Montanan. She is a mixed Cebuano American artist, muralist, and social activist. Werle creates works rooted in the Filipino diaspora that explore identity, place and culture. She serves on the Arts Missoula Board of Directors, GLOBAL committee, and chairs the BIPOC Art Advisory Council subcommittee.

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 Missoula often appears on national lists that make it clear why here is such a wonderful place to live, celebrating our easy access to outdoor recreation, good local beer, and live music. Most recently, and perhaps most unfortunately, Missoula is mentioned in the San Francisco Chronicle, topping the list of communities facing a housing affordability crisis aggravated by a 57.5% increase in home values that is matched by a 58% decrease in availability. On a happier note, a pre-pandemic Missoula achieved a #4 ranking in the mid-sized community category in the 2019 Arts Vibrancy Index Report (SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research.) It’s very gratifying to look at the Arts Vibrancy map and see Missoula standing alone in a vast geographic area (see above).

Ranking high in Arts Vibrancy is important to our community. As Randy Cohen from Americans for the Arts points out “The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, empathy, and beauty. The arts also strengthen our communities socially, educationally, and economically—benefits that persist even during a pandemic that has been devastating to the arts.” Check out Randy’s 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2022 | Americans for the Arts.

Aside from the past two years, we Missoulians clearly embrace the arts in Missoula. As the pandemic recedes, think of the wonderful events we can look forward to again. The expansive list of organizations that will make that possible is important to take note of. It includes but is not limited to the Missoula Symphony Association, MCT Community Theatre, Missoula Art Museum, Montana Museum of Art & Culture, Montana Repertory Theatre, Zootown Arts Community Center, Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival, Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival, International Choral Festival, Out to Lunch, Downtown Tonight, Montana Book Festival, River City Roots Fest, Festival of Remembrance, and First Night Missoula. We have gallery openings and exhibits, book readings, street performance, and independent theater productions. There is a lot happening on any given night. In fact, Missoula ranks #10 on the 30 Most Creative Small Cities published by the Western States Arts Federation which points out that “By location quotient, Missoula has a significantly higher concentration of independent artists, writers, and performers, theater companies, dinner theaters, art dealers, and bookstores than the rest of the United States.” We are clearly blessed by an abundance of creativity.

But absolutely none of these events would be possible without an individual artist who has invested countless hours honing a skill in order to provide us with a chance to enjoy a performance or exhibit. 

In fact, there is no “arts” without the “artist.”

To connect the dots between arts and artist, Arts Missoula created the Individual Artist Grants, funded through the Patron Fund, as an investment in the artists who make our community better. This initiative was bubbling for several years when the pandemic made it clear that there was a gap to fill in supporting the arts, and we could try to fill that gap by supporting the artists who make those arts happen. Plain and simple, it’s difficult to create a livelihood as an artist in the best of times, so the challenges caused by the pandemic economy only magnified the struggle. We received an incredible variety of applications from Missoula artists deeply engaged with making Missoula vibrant, proving the diversity of talent and need here. The first round of the awards have been granted, giving three Missoula artists a humble amount of reinforcement in their efforts to create art, connect with the arts community, and amplify the richness of our hometown. Check out this year’s recipients here: Arts Missoula Grants | Arts Missoula

If you love living in Missoula for more than just the good beer and outdoor recreation, please consider making a contribution to the Arts Missoula Patron Fund here Donate | Arts Missoula Help us connect the dots and keep Missoula a wonderful place to call home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Patten is a local glass artist and co-owner of 4 Ravens Gallery. She served on the Arts Missoula Board for 7 years and currently serves as a community member on the Advocacy and Education Committee.


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