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Prior to the COVID pandemic, Missoula regularly made it onto the lists of towns and cities that have a thriving arts and cultural landscape.  For several years Missoula was recognized as one of the top cities in Arts Vibrancy by Data Arts at Southern Methodist University.  In 2019 Missoula was ranked #4 in the nation for small cities in that study.   In 2020 Missoula was named as one of the 30 Most Creative Small Cities by the Western Arts Federation (WESTAF) located in Denver.  One of the factors that gets Missoula recognized in these national studies is the strong nonprofit arts sector: The Missoula Symphony Association, MCT Community Theatre, Missoula Art Museum, Montana Museum of Art and Culture, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the Clay Studio, Montana Repertory Theatre, Zootown Arts Community Center, Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre, Bare Bait Dance, String Orchestra of the Rockies, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival and Roxy Theater, Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival, International Choral Festival, Out to Lunch, Downtown Tonight, Montana Book Festival, River City Roots Fest, First Night Missoula, Missoula Writing Collaborative, and Open Air are all either nonprofit organizations or events produced by nonprofits.   

Now that we are emerging from COVID, national organizations are looking to collect such data again.  Americans for the Arts, the largest nonprofit arts organization in the nation, produces a large-scale study every five years called Arts and Economic Prosperity: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts Organizations and their Audiences.  After a year delay, they are embarking on this study beginning May 1.  The information gathered from this study is invaluable and helps to put Missoula on those lists of vibrant arts cities.   

The last such study, released in 2017, showed how vital the arts are to our local economy.  In that study, the arts and culture industry contributed $54 million to the Missoula economy, with $20.4 million coming from the nonprofit arts organizations, and $33.6 million from audiences.    

  • Missoula’s numbers ($54 million) were nearly three times the national median for cities our size ($19.5 million), and comparable to those of larger regional cities, such as Eugene, Reno or Boulder.  
  • The average attendee at a Missoula arts event spent $26, beyond the cost of admission, on items such as food, beverage and transportation.  Out-of-town visitors spent $53 in such spending.  Though only 20% of all attendees, these cultural tourists accounted for nearly half of all audience spending. 
  • Nonprofit arts and culture in Missoula supported 1,913 FTE jobs, $39 million in resident household income, and contributed $4.3 million annually in state and local government revenue.  These numbers vastly exceeded those of the national median for cities our size (512 FTE jobs, 11.6 million in household income, $1.1 million in government revenue).  

From now through next April, Arts Missoula board members and volunteers will be at arts and cultural events asking audience members to fill out a quick survey on spending for an arts event. Each survey only takes a few minutes to complete, and does not ask for any personal information other than a zip code to determine if you are a Missoula resident or from out-of-town. Information regarding how much money you spent or plan to spend in connection with the event, such as meals, lodging, or local shopping, will be compiled using verified methodology by Americans for the Arts. We will collect 800 surveys from a variety of events over the next twelve months, assuring that we obtain a valid sampling for determining how the arts drive revenue for other businesses in our community. 

We believe it is important to show that the arts and culture industry supports local jobs, generates government revenue, and is one of the cornerstones of local tourism. Thanks in advance to the local arts organizations that participate and allow us to survey their audience members, and to the audience members for taking the time to fill out a survey.   

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tom Bensen is the Executive Director of Arts Missoula.

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Cup of Kindness for Arts Missoula Patron Fund Loose Caboose has been a fixture in the Missoula landscape for decades. The familiar sight of the red wagons posted in several locations in town promises delicious coffee to “wake up your smile.” They serve up not only an invigorating cup of joe but have also been serving this community for years with their Cup of Kindness campaign.

One day a month, Loose Caboose donates 50% of their daily income from coffee sales to local nonprofits. Arts Missoula Patron Fund was a beneficiary of their generosity last month. We are grateful to the owner Malcolm Lowe and his excellent team for the support for this very important initiative.

Malcolm is an artist himself. A trained actor and singer, he has acted in many MCT performances as well as Shakespeare’s plays and has sung with many musical ensembles. He is the artistic director of MPower Voices, a choir for adults with disabilities. One of their performances takes place in December at the Skate with Santa event at the Glacier Ice Rink where the choir sings Christmas carol favorites. Malcolm is a recipient of the MARCH 2022 Arts Missoula Star Award.

Fundraising for the arts can be difficult but rewarding. We all know the importance of the arts for our well-being and happiness, however, if faced with the choice of helping to eradicate hunger or support art and artists, the latter isn’t always the obvious decision. Loose Caboose’s Cup of Kindness supports these causes as well. Arts Missoula is proud to have found a place among these worthy causes as a beneficiary of their generosity.

If you had a coffee at Loose Caboose on April 19, we thank you for your support! We hope you go back for more of their delicious offerings. Thank you, Malcolm and Loose Caboose crew!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Magda Chaney is the development director of Arts Missoula.

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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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The expression “bloom where you are planted” has always resonated with me. While I consider myself a global citizen that has put down roots in the Northern Rockies, I’m a first-generation American, born on Filmore Street in San Francisco (shhh!) to refugee parents who immigrated to the United States from Czechoslovakia. Thanks to the Caritas humanitarian social aid agency in Vienna, Austria, that helped asylum-seekers escaping persecution from the Soviet Union with resettlement to the United States, I was fortunate to be born free. My parents were not US citizens yet upon my birth, so I was granted dual citizenship and I grew up with English as my second language. I think the most creative use of my Czech passport was traveling to Cuba in the early 2000’s when Americans still weren’t allowed in, it was a magnificent step back in time. 

Getting back on topic, starting on January 5, 1968 a brief period of freedom began when Czechoslovakia’s national culture began to bloom with the freedom of speech and religion, abolition of censorship, and liberalization, a time that became known as the Prague Spring. However, the Soviet Union soon became alarmed by what appeared to be the imminent collapse of communism and rise of democracy in Czechoslovakia, so on the night of August 20, 1968 they deployed a military force of 200,000 Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks that violently invaded Czechoslovakia from land and sky to crush the Prague Spring. And just like that, the Iron Curtain forced Czechoslovakia back under the control of the Kremlin in Moscow. Sound familiar? 

Fast forward to 2022, and what I’m seeing and hearing on the news is beyond belief, history repeating itself. The Kremlin (now the Russian Government) is back at it, sending in violent military force by land and sky, sending in troops and tanks in a gruesome attempt to decimate democracy, but this time, invading Ukraine, and prompting a mass exodus of millions of refugees. Rumor has it that Putin is trying to reintegrate historical Russia and restore pre-1991 Soviet era unity.

The deployment of military force on Czechoslovakia in 1968 was the largest in Europe since the end of World War II. I just read that the 2022 invasion of Ukraine is the largest military attack in Europe since World War II, again unleashed by the Kremlin. This just really struck a chord with me. I’m proud of my Eastern European heritage, my family’s stories from the attacks, escape, and survival and starting over with nothing, nothing but freedom, which is everything, these are the stories that are woven into the fabric of my being. And from the core of my being, I felt an urgent need to connect with my place of being, here, in Missoula, with my community to seek solace and unity.  

As luck would have it, on Monday, March 7th, when we were having our monthly Arts Missoula GLOBAL (AMG) Advisory Committee Meeting, we were welcoming two new members that would have the key to unlocking exactly what I was looking for. They were co-hosting an event on March 9th at Imagine Nation Brewing to support Peace and Humanity in Ukraine with a community fundraiser for the World Central Kitchen. Wow! Yes, count me in please! Those two fabulous new AMG Advisory Committee members are Jacqueline Flewellen, Director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC), and Sarah Howerton, Development Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Missoula, Montana’s only refugee resettlement agency. Thank you both!

Also on our agenda at the meeting was an update on AMG’s International Voices Podcast Spring Series: Food as Cultural Diplomacy. So far this season AMG’s Director, Dr. Udo Fluck talks with chefs that came to Missoula through resettlement programs and now offer our community a taste of different ethnic cuisines. March’s podcast features Beth Baker, the Program Manager of the United We Eat (UWE) Programme at Soft Landing Missoula, with Rozan Shbib, originally from Syria, who is the UWE Kitchen Assistant. February’s podcast features Wissam Raheem (Kamoon food-truck owner), originally from Syria, who teamed up with Ammar Omar (Ragheef food-truck owner), originally from Iraq, to open a new restaurant in Missoula, Kamoon Arabian Cuisine.   

Incidentally, Caritas Austria, the humanitarian charity that helped resettle my parents, has been resettling refuges from Syria and Iraq, and now they are helping refugees desperately fleeing besieged Ukraine.  

After I left the benefit event for Ukraine at Imagine Nation Brewing, I walked across the street to pick up a falafel wrap to-go at Kamoon, got home and turned on CNN to see if we had entered World War III, and as I was taking a delicious bite of my wrap, I see José Andrés, a Spanish-American chef and founder of World Central Kitchen (the beneficiary organization of our community fundraiser for Ukraine) being interviewed on the Ukraine-Poland border where his team is providing cooked meals to refugees. 

In that moment it hit me…. everything just came full circle. No matter where we are from or where we land, we can take refuge in each other right here, right now, in Missoula, Montana, and together, bloom where we are planted! 

It’s time to increase the world’s appetite for PEACE!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mia Hanak (or Hanáková) has been producing environmentally-themed, cause-related, public art installations and experiences in collaboration with the United Nations for the past 20-years through her organization Millennium ART International. Locally, Mia serves on the Arts Missoula Board of Directors and she is the Advisory Committee Chair of Arts Missoula GLOBAL.

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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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It may have been three months ago now that Magda at Arts Missoula asked me to write a blog about why I support The Arts. She made it clear that the material could be anything I wanted, which made it more difficult for me. After all my opinions and beliefs about The Arts have taken a lifetime to develop. Beyond that, relationships have always been something I take seriously and my relationship with The Arts are no different. The story starts with a creative mother, nine years of music at Missoula County Public Schools and then a brief but meaningful two-and-a-half-year stint as a student of dance at The University of Montana.

Dance has been a powerful influence in my life. I’ll never forget the day I nervously set foot on the “Modern 1” studio floor on campus. The space was awe inspiring. Lofty ceilings, maybe thirty feet overhead. Big enough to hold twenty to thirty students and give them room to move about. It was a space waiting to be filled. Mirrored on one side, our accompanist Bob seated at the upright piano nearby. The students’ shoes, coats, various bits of clothing and backpacks piled beside the door. I vividly remember the smell and feel of the hardwood dance floor and the space that accompanied it. Some people say smell is the sense most strongly connected to memory. This may be why it has stuck with me for more than thirty years. The sound of the students breathing, the creek of the piano bench married to the resonant sounds coming from the upright, and the feel of my bare feet on the floor when they started to sweat from effort. There was no more enjoyable work in the world than learning how to move and no greater discovery than learning that my body might have a story to tell. The creative dish you make when you combine this space with live music, an inspirational teacher, and a group of young people in discovery mode is special.

One of the things I liked most about “Modern 1” was that every day when I stepped through the double door of the studio, I was insulated from anything that was going on in the outside world. It was a safe place without judgment. Without a care and without stress I could fill my mind with the wisdom of my body and have a moment or two of clarity and focus. For this reason, the dance program at the University of Montana had some of the most meaningful impact on my formative young adult years. It turned out that if you gave me some space and some encouragement, I could turn into a pretty good person on my own. That person became one with a balance of resolve and openness in the way he thought. The lessons that I learned in that space are best described as intangible but of high value.

In my experience, the realm that The Arts live in is one where there aren’t experts and pundits telling you how to feel or act when you are experiencing what is laid out in front of you. Over and over, I have witnessed The Arts as a secure place. An open space where ideas have room to grow. A place where we can all feel without explanation. It is meditative and expansive, not drawn in and guarded. There is room to think without all the dissonant messaging the outside world forces on us. Simply put there aren’t many right and wrong answers.

Today, my fifty plus year old self can look back at that time and recognize that those moments laid a foundation for the rest of my life. I have recognized for a long time now that if I could contribute to another person feeling the way I did back then, I should. In my opinion, we would be better served as a society if we had more quiet contemplative space instead of the crushing overabundance of information and artificial constructs, we subject ourselves to. To a large degree our behavior is learned through our culture. We are constantly told what we are and what we are not by a system that is built to profit off our insecurities. We are constantly reminded what we don’t have and what we deserve by that same system. Imagine how much better the world might end up if we had a place to develop the confidence and serenity to become the best versions of ourselves without that influence. There is no question that I would want more opportunities like that in my community. Making and becoming better humans is what we should all strive for every day. The Arts offer us that.

My support for The Arts ties into business as well. There is evidence to support the idea that communities with a strong representation of The Arts are more vibrant and this translates to a thriving economy. Beyond that, I have always believed that I did not get to the place I am today without help. My business has enjoyed the support of my community for over forty-five years. It would be selfish and out of balance to withhold my support. These are the primary reasons I find supporting The Arts such an easy choice. It is personal. I understand that. What is right for me isn’t always right for someone else, but for me the value of any donation I have made and will continue to make is returned many times over.

There are so many ways to support The Arts. If you have money to give, by all means, give it. There is no end to the number of worthy organizations, and therefore projects, that are a dollar or more away from greatness. If you have skill, share it. Please, come out of your shell. Do your best and have the courage to display your work. There is no reward without risk and there is no growth without challenge. Become your part of the discussion. Parents, there are numerous opportunities to safely expose your children to The Arts. Maybe you’ll find out your child is a kinesthetic learner. Maybe they remember their history lesson through a song, or painting and coloring. Sewing those creative pathways to their education is powerful. Memories linked to creative experience and process are usually more permanent than those that aren’t. In my heart I feel that a child with exposure to The Arts might be more confident, curious, and creative than the same child without those experiences. Finally, be a witness. Without audience The Arts are meaningless. Creation is only half of the relationship. Every artist I know would rather have your opinion than your indifference. Without the reflection of audience all art is an unfulfilled promise left unwrapped in the box it came in.

To sum things up, Missoula is my home. My sense of place is strong. In my case you can’t have me without Missoula. Sort of like Luke Skywalker and The Force. It is well established that we live in a town filled with artists and their contribution to our place. I am deeply in debt to all of them and I would suggest that you are too, whether you realize it or not. So, I humbly invite you to join me in creating our community through The Arts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shannon Flanagan is an Arts Missoula board member, owner of Flanagan Motors Mazda and supporter of arts in the Missoula community. Shannon is also on the board of Bare Bait Dance Company and is a member of the Fine Arts Advisory Council at the University of Montana.


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