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What a shame to see so many cultural and artistic artifacts being stolen or destroyed in Iraq, one of the world's truly ancient cities. We can cast aspersions on the residents of that country, sure, if we can forget the decades of oppression under which they've lived - but we have to also remember that WE STARTED IT.

Call Ms. Jones "sensitive," but she cringed to see pictures of U.S. soldiers bulldozing mosaics and toppling statues in Iraq. Yes, they did display likenesses of that evil emperor, Saddam Hussein, and Ms. Jones can well imagine the testosterone of victory and all its attendant destructive impulses - but still, she winced.

Now that her initial disgust has worn off, though, she wonders: How can we get some of that action here in Missoula? Hello, National Guard! Clean up your own back yard, Ms. Jones says. She knows of a certain alphabetical "sculpture," red in color, that many locals would rejoice to see torn down. Think of the photo ops! And then, that task accomplished, they could take care of the concrete lion in front of the Central Park garage and we could get Tom Rippon to make something pretty to take its place.

Missoula painter/Hula Queen Kristi Hager is smiling with delight these days, having opened her mail and finding a check for $20,000. Hager's the latest Missoula to win a no-strings-attached grant from the Gottlieb Foundation, a New York City organization committed to supporting "mature" artists.

Winning the grant not only is highly prestigious - Hager was one of 12 chosen from some 500 applicants - but, for the artist, financially gratifying, as well. "It's been really rough in terms of sales the last two years," she says; the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the resulting slump in the U.S. economy have made people more cautious about buying art, she asserts. "I think the art sector has been hit really hard," she says.

Some artists hold other jobs to support themselves, but Hager paints full-time. On the side she creates performance artworks such as 2000's "Cool Water Hula," which drew some 150 people to the shores of Butte's Berkeley Pit; and she photographs historic buildings on a seasonal, sporadic basis for the National Archive in Washington, D.C.

The money, she says, is welcome both as a means of added financial security and for the art it can help her create. A former Brunswick Building artist and a member of the Pattee Canyon Ladies' Salon, Hager is now building a studio behind her house downtown, she says, and she may use some of the cash for a ventilation system, an industrial sink or racks for storing paintings until they're sold. Art "doesn't just move out like hotcakes," she says wryly.

The fact that she does paint for a living is one reason Hager won the award, she points out: The Gottlieb benefits artists who have 20 years or more of "Mature" work to show, and whose life demonstrates consistent choices in favor of art.

"Many times, I went with the art versus the security," she says.

Missoula's second artist in four years to win the national prize - Sheila Miles was a recipient in 1999 - Hager was still exultant several days after getting the check.

"It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime award," she says, "that I'm just so grateful to get."

Can an instrument weep? Can it fling emotions like sparks of light? Under the nimble, heartfelt fingers of Peter Zazofsky, it can.

Guest soloist with the Missoula Symphony Orchestra last weekend, Zazofsky dazzled the crowd with his plaintive, sweet, sad, energetic, wistful, lively violin as well as the expressive movements of his body - dancing to Beethoven? You bet - as he breathed Beethoven's Violin Concerto to pulsing life. The 45-minute piece, although lovely from beginning to end, isn't as showy as so many of Ludwig's other famous works, but with Zazofsky deep in its currents it electrified the room and the rest of the orchestra, too, with whom he made eye contact, nodding and smiling and encouraging whenever he wasn't bowing his own strings.

As anyone who watched him might imagine, Zazofsky, who teaches at Boston University, proved a godsend to the Missoulians who play in the symphony. From the day he arrived, symphony manager and trumpeter John Driscoll says, Zazofsky uplifted and inspired the group: "That's what we bring guests artists here for," Driscoll says. "Not just for the audience, but to help the musicians improve. Peter took us to a new level."

Zazofsky's next Montana performances happen this summer, when he makes his yearly appearance here as part of the Muir String Quartet. Look for him in Bozeman July 21, in Helena July 25, and, on July 27, at St. Timothy's Chapel overlooking Georgetown Lake, near Anaconda.

Ms. Jones notes with mixed emotions the changes ahead for the Doubletree Edgewater lounge. On the one hand, she's excited to see her favorite Missoula chef, Charles Davidson - formerly of Marianne's at the Wilma and the Steelhead Grill - at the helm of the new Finn & Porter restaurant occupying the space; on the other hand, she agrees with her friend Mr. Ed, who mourns the loss of the plush, pink, dark, womb-like atmosphere the lounge has offered lo these many years. Walking into the Edgewater was like walking into a cave, but warmer - a romantic hideaway with deep, rolling chairs and a view. Quiet and discreet, it seemed the perfect rendezvous spot for clandestine lovers. But no more: When the new Edgewater opens, it will be as one with the current restaurant, with wrap-around windows for seeing and, yes, being seen, and French doors, Ms. Jones has heard, leading to the wonderful riverside deck.

Oh, excuse her. Ms. Jones meant to say "freedom" doors. Oops.

Reach Missoulian reporter Sherry Jones at 523-5299 or at sjones@missoulian.com.

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