After 15 years, Humanities Montana is pulling out of the Festival of the Book, an annual highlight for a community thick with writers and readers.
Last year, for example, the three-day event drew 7,500 to hear headlining writer Sherman Alexie and numerous others in venues across downtown Missoula.
Kim Anderson, who started the festival and has run it each year since, said several factors contributed to the decision. This year, it lost several sponsorships, but the organization is also refocusing on its mission.
The group serves Montana as a whole, as an independent nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment of the Humanities.
As such, Anderson said the board “felt that the intensity of the staff time” required to plan a festival year-round warranted the decision to pull out.
Anderson said she’s “totally optimistic” the festival will continue. They’re in talks with other groups, but she couldn’t name any on record yet.
“It’s a little premature to give any more information than that. We’re talking to people. We want to support an ongoing festival,” Anderson said.
Executive director Ken Egan said the group is willing to offer “some seed funding” toward a continuing festival. He imagines that it will likely be a “consortium of organizations in Missoula and around the state.”
After this year’s festival is over, Egan said he and Anderson will reach out to other organizations and “see what’s possible.”
He said they’re willing to work with “whomever is willing to take it on” and find other sources of funding. They’ll also reach out to organizers of book festivals in Billings, Bozeman and Great Falls.
Egan said he’d like to hear “new paradigms” and “new thoughts” on what a statewide book festival should look like.
Meanwhile, Humanities Montana has numerous programs going simultaneously across the state. It distributes funds to other organizations, books 200 to 250 expert speakers in schools per year, and runs Hometown Humanities, now in its third year.
That program brings a year’s worth of arts programming to a community at no cost. Previous recipients were Miles City and Dillon, while this year’s is Lincoln County as a whole. Local groups select the offerings for the year, everything from speakers in schools to historic downtown preservation work.
The hope is that by the next year, the infrastructure is in place for the community to “move to the next level,” by writing grants for projects of its own.
Anderson said the organization still has a commitment to literature and the state’s literary community.
“It wasn’t money as much as our focus,” she said.