On First Fridays, some of the most challenging work you can find is at FrontierSpace, a nonprofit gallery tucked into an alley downtown.
In June, University of Montana MFA graduate Christopher Meyer returned to town for a sculptural installation called "Entangle." He covered three walls with thousands of thorns in flowing arrangements that were beautiful, but you knew they were threatening.
In May, local filmmaker Marshall Granger screened a "video portrait" called "A Couple Goes Out to Eat." The summer before last, celebrated art critic Lucy Lippard even stopped by.
"I think we provide a valuable resource for Missoula," said Dean Leeper, one of the five UM MFA candidates who directs the gallery. It's structured differently, for one. It's only open on First Fridays, except for special events. They invite out-of-state and local artists to show work that might not otherwise have a venue.
The gallery is tucked into the alley on West Pine Street in between Sushi Hana and the Thomas Meagher Bar. The main space is a classic white cube gallery — about 21 feet deep and 9 feet wide. There's also an auxiliary gallery next door that's 11 by 7 feet.
Within that space, artists are free to pursue their own visions. That means the work often isn't "salable." To help fund it, the gallery hosts an annual auction.
This year, pieces were donated by well-established UM art professors. Ceramicist Julia Galloway provided four or five works. Photographer Matt Hamon gave a piece. Printmaker Elizabeth Dove donated the "Z" entry from her dictionary-based alphabetical series "It Starts With Aardvark" that was recently featured at the Missoula Art Museum. Other contributors include UM MFA students and a curated assortment of local and student work.
The opening bids are priced to sell, ranging from single digits to three digits. The works vary between 50, 75 and 100 percent donations, and the proceeds go back toward the minimal gallery costs like rent, fliers, materials for the gallery such as lighting and paint. They'd like to raise enough to offer artists stipends and shipping costs.
It's now a 501(c)3 nonprofit and donations are tax deductible.
The space was founded in 2010 by UM MFA candidates Will Hutchinson and Nathan Tonning. Both came to Missoula from larger cities in the Midwest, and envisioned the gallery as a place to exhibit adventurous noncommercial art from out of state.
The gallery has never been funded or overseen by the university, but it has been handed down through a succession of MFA candidates. Usually four to five serve as "co-directors" at any given time. (It's not a pre-requisite that someone is in the MFA program, it's just happened that way.)
Anne Yoncha, who makes paintings and installation art about plant physiology, said she wanted to get involved with FrontierSpace as soon as she heard about it. The gallery has a funky location and certain intimacy, plus the artists that are brought in from across the country.
Leeper, a studio potter, said it provides real-world experience.
"It provides an experience you don't get in the classroom or in your studio," he said. They have to take on responsibilities for curating shows and working with artists and the community.
Brock Mickelsen, a photographer interested in landscape and sense of place, said the location, just off the main drag, can invite people in who might not otherwise go into a proper gallery or museum. Leeper said some people will tuck their head into the gallery for a minute and move on; others will stay for awhile and exit the gallery quite emotional. People are welcome to hang out and talk about the art, a community feature that's important as Missoula has lost many of its other venues, like the Brink Gallery and Real Good Art Space.
The other co-directors this year are Casey Schaefer and Zach Williams.
They're currently accepting proposals for the spring semester, with a deadline of Dec. 1. If they fill up their First Friday calendar, they are open to hosting events on other days. In prior years, they've hosted readings, lectures and performances.
This month, the Missoula Art Museum is spotlighting work made by photographers from a Two Eagle River School trip to New York City.
Students from the school in Pablo traveled to the city in 2016, shooting and learning along the way. They went on tours of institutions in the photography world, such as the New York Times, New York University’s photo program, Aperture magazine, International Center of Photography, and the photography collection at the Museum of Modern Art.
The trip was arranged by David Spear, who taught at NYU and ICP before relocating to Montana. He started a nonprofit program called A VOICE, which stands for Art, Vision and Outreach In Community Education.
In 2002, he began teaching photography at Salish-Kootenai College and started Our Community Record: Two Eagle River School on the Flathead Indian Reservation, a project that encourages students to explore and document their community, culture, and history through storytelling and photographic studies.
The student photographers are Lee Atwin, Shawncee Brave Rock, Nikki Burke, Tristin George, Nina Leone Hernandez, Taelyn Lafley, Whisper Michel, Jenna Mullaney, Esperanza Orozco-Charlo, Alexia Parizeau, Mars Sandoval, Xavier Smith, Michelle Tomma, and Bailey Wippert.
The official opening exhibition is Friday, Oct. 6, from 5 to 8 p.m. The gallery talk is at 7 p.m. The work will be on display through Dec. 31.