Beth Lo’s parents emigrated from China to Indiana looking for better opportunities, and their lives “just opened up,” she said.
Lo came to Montana – practically a foreign country, she said – for an adventure of her own, and set about establishing a prolific career.
She’s a ceramic artist who’s won praise around the U.S. and the globe. She’s a University of Montana professor, heading a department once led by her mentor, pioneering ceramicist Rudy Autio. She’s also a musician with the Big Sky Mudflaps and countless other jazz groups.
As she accepted her Individual Artist Award on Tuesday at the Missoula Cultural Council’s annual awards luncheon, she credited the environment here and the people she found for helping her creative career.
“To have the availability to try stuff and to figure out what I want to be is the result of Montana, and particular in Missoula,” she said.
Lo and other longtime members of the arts and cultural life here received honors Tuesday from the MCC at the DoubleTree Hotel. Each year, nominations are submitted from the public and the MCC board chooses the final award winners.
A tie vote led to two individual awards for arts educator, which acknowledges those who teach a craft and have made a significant impact on the community. Coincidentally, both were given in the field of dance, an artistic category that’s often overlooked in western Montana.
Lisa Deer, director of the On Center for the Performing Arts, wanted to teach dance since age 3, and opened her first studio at 16. Since then, she’s performed around the world in a variety of styles, from ballet to hip-hop. She’s also led and contributed to a mix of local organizations, such as the On Center, Next Step Prep, and Missoula Community Theatre.
Her nomination cited Deer’s talent for community theater, where she works with people of all skill levels to create a production that’s a “well-oiled machine.”
While accepting her award, Deer mentioned the surprise of entering the spotlight.
“As you guys know, most of you out there are arts educators, when you choose to be an educator, you don’t expect to be recognized ... so it is truly a humbling experience when you are,” Deer said.
The other educator award went to Tarn Ream – perhaps best known as the founder of Unity African Dance & Drum.
That nonprofit is only a part of her resume – she’s taught dance for 20 years in weekly community classes, K-12 schools and the University of Montana. She’s been a lead organizer for the annual Festival of the Dead since 2005. Beyond artistic work, she also led cleanup efforts after the Mount Jumbo avalanche, and organized a One Billion Rising event on the UM campus to draw attention to domestic violence against women and girls.
After issuing her thank-yous and acknowledging the musicians in her dance troupe, Ream couldn’t resist having the full crowd stand up for a few minutes and engage in a traditional call-and-response in Zulu.
Dr. Cathy Capps was honored with the Cultural Achievement Award for her lengthy list of contributions to the arts in Missoula.
She’s “a wonderful combination of left-brain surgeon and right-brain lover of and participant in the arts,” according to the nomination.
Capps has “donated countless hours on boards,” said emcee and MCC executive director Tom Bensen, and she has made “substantial contributions financial and otherwise.” Those include numerous endowments and scholarships at the University of Montana, and volunteer work on boards for the Missoula Symphony Association and Missoula Community Theatre.
In addition to behind-the-scenes work and support, she also acts and sings in the local theater and music communities.
Receiving her award, Capps joked about the nomination’s reference to her “bawdy but appropriate” sense of humor.
“This is such a momentous day for me. It’s the first time the word culture has been linked to my name,” she said.
General manager of Missoula Community Access Television Joel Baird won the Cultural Vision Award for his 15 years of work helping local residents produce and broadcast their own media creations at no cost.
The nomination also cited MCAT’s service taping arts and cultural events, such as the MCC awards ceremony itself, the Festival of the Book and others at no cost through media assistance grants that Baird pioneered.
MCAT has also become a resource and educational center for youth projects, such as summer camps, a high school film contest, and a new media academy at Sentinel High School.
For its numerous sponsorships, Missoula Federal Credit Union was awarded the Business Support for the Arts Award.
That list of arts and other nonprofit events includes Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival, First Night Missoula, Bitterroot Performing Arts Council, Montana Festival of the Book, KBGA, Missoula Symphony Association, Out to Lunch, and many more.
Joanie Walker, marketing director for the credit union, emphasized that supporting local efforts is part of its mission as a financial community cooperative.
The MCC is a nonprofit arts agency formed in 1991. It promotes collaboration between arts organizations, public agencies and local businesses. It organizes First Night Missoula, the sprawling annual New Year’s Eve celebration and The Last Best Solstice, a three-year-old event that focuses on visual artists. It features a studio tour and artists at work in Caras Park. It’s set for June 21 this year.