Connected and Collaborative
I had the good fortune to be in Billings for North x Northwest, activities curated by Billings Cultural Partners to spotlight the richness of Montana’s metropolitan center. Regional board members Tracy Linder and Lynne Montague keep me updated on the health and vibrancy of the cultural scene, but nothing replaces being present.
I had a whirlwind of conversations with the leadership of some of the community’s cultural anchors such as the Yellowstone Art Museum, the Alberta Bair Theater, SCRaP Billings, the Western Heritage Center, and the Northcutt Steele Gallery at MSU Billings. Corby Skinner and Anna Paige invited me to chat with them on Yellowstone Public Radio.
I got a peek at the home and studio of Jane Waggoner Deschner and Jon Lodge while meeting artists from across the region. I wandered through a special Art Walk on a beautiful fall evening. I was able to experience a delightful performance at Billings Studio Theatre and catch the haunting presentation of “The Other Mozart” in Petro Theater at MSU-Billings.
In a brief break for a cup of coffee, I struck up a conversation with a fellow patron, only to discover that it was Mark Fee, a prolific poet and social activist that I had been communicating with by email. I literally couldn’t turn around without experiencing the arts.
Billings has an active community of support; it is connected, collaborative, and inspired. The Montana Arts Council will be conducting the winter business meeting in Billings. I look forward to hearing about their impressions.
Active community engagement
While my time in Billings is fresh on my mind, active community engagement is what keeps the arts relevant in Montana. I was in Whitefish to attend the North Valley Music School’s scholarship luncheon and witnessed the commitment to keeping music education accessible. During my visit to northeastern Montana for the Fort Peck Theatre’s 50th anniversary, I could see the way in which that cultural anchor draws together a community of theatre professionals, from across the state and country, to develop the skills that serve as the foundation of successful careers.
The same is true of Montana Actors’ Theatre in Havre, and their internship that hands the power of producing and presenting theatre productions, along with a summer camp, to young professionals.
Grant Bulltail: Preserving stories across generations
When I received the call that Grant Bulltail would be recognized as a National Heritage Fellow, I had difficulty finding information on him. As I spoke to those who have worked with him and heard the tales that he has preserved, I was humbled to think of the extraordinary commitment, across generations, to protect Apsáalooke culture.
I am so fortunate to have colleagues across the region, from Wyoming to Utah, who have been carefully capturing his knowledge. We can be sure that through audio, video, written word and, most importantly, live storytelling, we can be sure the art endures.
Montana: Committed to the long game
All of this makes me wonder: what could we risk if we don’t keep arts opportunities widely available? What if there wasn’t the chance for a child in Whitefish to learn music, and all of the joy that comes with that? Or for a theatre student to spend a summer developing professional skills that can launch a career? Or the chance to hear the story of the land we are on and appreciate the gift we have?
In my job, I am often looking to data linked to return on investment to demonstrate value, generally in a relatively short timeframe. This string of experiences has cemented for me that Montana is committed to the long game, knowing that each art opportunity builds to a future full of beauty.