Howard Finster

Willem Volkersz's donation to the Missoula Art Museum includes several works by Howard Finster, a Georgia preacher who developed an unexpected second career as a folk artist. This piece, "The Devil's Vice," was painted in 1984.

Courtesy of MAM

The Missoula Art Museum has been awarded a $25,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for America.

The project, titled CARES, short for Catalyzing Access, Research and Education, will help the contemporary art museum reach out to some 250 organizations across Montana. MAM's stated goal is "a statewide project to improve community access and collection resources for libraries and museums" and examining what form a future collaboration-oriented MAM collections center could take.

​MAM senior curator Brandon Reintjes said the MAM's current vault for its collection is roughly 1,200 square feet. With 1,900 pieces, the MAM will need more space, especially because it's collecting works at an increasing rate, according to research by registrar Jennifer ​Reifsneider.

In the near term, the MAM is trying to determine what resources other organizations need. It has commissioned conservator Beth Heller to survey those 250 organizations, which includes libraries, museums, archives and other institutions of all sizes.

There will be professional development for organizations across the state. Heller will offer guidance on preserving artworks on paper and archival documents. Donna McCrea, the head of UM's Archives & Special Collections, will give workshops on archives management.

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​It's in the formative stages, but a collections center could achieve a lot for the MAM and other organizations. Reintjes said their concept is modeled off the American Folk Art Museum, which is located in Manhattan and maintains a large storage area in Long Island. A MAM secondary site can offer a place for the public to see exhibitions of work from the collection while giving researchers a concentrated archive.

The MAM is anticipating historically valuable material in the future. Willem Volkersz, the Bozeman artist, and his wife Diane, have an extensive collection of folk art from across the country, spanning decades. They agreed to give the MAM their voluminous archive of material with high historical value: oral histories, letters and correspondence with the artists and videos. The MAM selected 38 pieces from the collection, and many hundreds more will go to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin.

​"Suddenly we have this relationship and responsibility to a national institution, and we want to be able to organize our information and make it accessible and have collaborations," Reintjes said.​

​Other opportunities to archive historically important collections by the generation that founded modernism in Montana have "slipped by," he said, so they envision a place to preserve that history. Combined with the artworks themselves, archives provide the chance to truly convey a story in an exhibition, he said.

There are other benefits to a new collections space. Sometimes other organizations in the state reach out because they've run out of space for a particular gift; often individuals or groups need short-term storage, sometimes in the case of the threat from wildfires.

It could operate as a short-term conservation lab for visiting conservators; or a space to offer fellowships or residencies to scholars.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment Editor for The Missoulian.