Two Missoula artists have won the Montana Arts Council's annual innovation awards.

Performance artist Kristi Hager, she of the Cool Water Hula, and writer David Cates, whose most recent novel is "Freeman Walker," won two of the five awards given by the council.

"I applied because I felt like my work showed a range of approaches, but it's really a surprising and wonderful honor to win," said Cates, the author of "Hunger in America" and "X Out of Wonderland." "It's nice to have your body of work recognized, particularly when you haven't really had a body of work for very long."

Hager, who could not be reached, is a printmaker, painter, photographer and performance artist. Although her focus is primarily visual arts, Hager is perhaps best known as the creator of the Cool Water Hula, a dance of hope designed to focus attention on the accumulation of toxic water in Butte's Berkeley Pit.

The dance, first performed in 2000, turns 10 this year and will be performed at the Bell Diamond Mine Yard in Butte on Saturday, July 10.

"Going out on a limb with that performance took me out of the studio and into grade schools, a high school, hospitals, rural libraries, a state literacy conference, public radio, YouTube and collaboration with a 12-foot puppet," Hager said in an arts council news release.

The innovation awards come with a $3,000 check funded through the National Endowment of the Arts. Also winning awards were Melissa Kwasny of Jefferson City, and Eric Funk and Katherine Kramer, both of Bozeman.

Of Hager's work, the council's review panel said "the way she uses multimedia changes the way we look at things."

Regarding Cates' handling of "startling and wonderful" subject matter, the arts panel said: "He takes on big themes but doesn't neglect the good story in it."

Cates said his most recent work, yet to be published but titled "Ben Armstrong's Strange Trip Home," is even more adventurous than his previous writing.

"It's really a look at the nature of reality, of what we think is real, what we think is memory, what we think are dreams," he said. "As the character goes home, he comes back as a little boy raised by his grandma, he walks with his great-grandfather, he's a character in his own dreams. And he's also just a middle-aged man who has come home to reconnect with his brother. It's all quite confusing to him."

The "Armstrong" manuscript is now being shopped to publishers by Cates' agent. Meanwhile, he's at work on a new novel.

"What's nice about the award is that it comes at a time when I'm starting to have that feeling the new novel isn't very good, or that nobody's paying me for it," he said. "So I can use all the encouragement I can get."

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at


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