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First Friday exhibitions look to online options as downtown venues are closed

First Friday exhibitions look to online options as downtown venues are closed


First Friday will be nonexistent this month, as the multitude of art galleries, museums and businesses in downtown Missoula that show new work are all closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, some organizations are looking at ways to share art shows that have been planned long in advance, or work years in the making.

The Downtown Dance Collective, which is scheduled to move out of its space on West Main Street, is hosting one last First Friday show. Maria Kupper’s exhibition, “Always Home,” comprises some 21 landscape photographs the German transplant has taken. The title refers to her travels and her love of the outdoors.

“I’m comfortable in nature even when I’m away from family and friends,” she said.

Over at the Missoula Art Museum, the exhibiting artists will give a Q&A for their show, “Earthbound: 30 Seconds to 40 Moons.” It’s a collaboration between Linda Alterwitz of Las Vegas and Elizabeth Stone of Greenough. The exhibition is fully installed in the MAM galleries, and is planned to be up until the end of July. 

On Friday (see box), senior curator Brandon Reintjes will talk with the artists via Zoom, the free video-conferencing app via which the public can watch the talk, with plenty of images of the wall-size installations the two artists created. 

In an email, Reintjes said it's "a meditative and reflective exhibition and pains me that we can't share the physical space of the gallery with the community just yet. I'm excited for and proud of both artists and grateful for their flexibility and bravery in trying a new format and way for us to share their work."

The necessary shift will be a stark contrast to only a month ago, when the March art walk's sunny weather brought about 274 people through the doors of the Missoula Art Museum. Down the street, the Radius Gallery counted more than 1,000 at its newly constructed two-story building next to the Merc hotel. The new Zootown Arts Community Center building on West Main Street drew elbow-to-elbow crowds at times but staff didn't conduct a formal count.


With the state's closure of non-essential businesses, some spaces that host art are closed but improvising alternatives. As a performing arts studio, the DDC has closed its doors entirely. The nonprofits MAM and ZACC are closed indefinitely, and Radius is open by appointment only.

Some of Kupper’s images at the DDC refer back to family trips the German Alps, where she also got her first exposure to photography. The pictures track her most recent journey — after completing her doctorate, she traveled to Iceland and Scotland, and then returned to Germany, where she felt that it was perhaps time to leave her home country and find something new for a while. Searching job listings, she was drawn here to Missoula, where she’s a microbiologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Montana.

Now 32, she’s been shooting since she was 15. She’s never exhibited her work publicly before, but the atmosphere at First Friday art walks, which she finds welcoming to beginning artists and appreciative of photography, gave her the “boost” in confidence she needed to approach the Downtown Dance Collective about a show.

She went to a local printing shop, Paper & Ink, to have her landscapes printed on fabric or paper, and with Art Haus Fine Art Framing. The pictures, mounted on the wall, resemble old-school projection screens rather than traditional frames and glass.

Heather Adams, the owner of the DDC, allowed Kupper to hang the show in the space, but only to share it in person with proper social distancing (i.e., a few individuals at a time). Kupper is uploading the photos and text to her website with the hopes that she can sell some of them. The prints were an investment for which she saved up, although she noted that she’s grateful she has another monthly income to depend on.

In the end, she didn’t include a few images of animals shot in Glacier National Park, such as a squirrel with plastic in its mouth, that were intended to send a message about treating nature with proper care.

“It’s me trying to show the beauty of nature and invoke respect for it,” because “it’s our shared home, so that we can all enjoy it and live with it.”

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