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FrontierSpace alternative art gallery seeks new home

FrontierSpace alternative art gallery seeks new home

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The FrontierSpace alternative art gallery is looking for a new home.

The space, founded 10 years ago by University of Montana students earning their Master of Fine Art degrees, is located in the alley on West Pine Street. Each month during First Fridays, it hosts work in a 14-by-21-foot storage space modified with white gallery walls. Inside, you can find installation and other non-commercial work you'd rarely see elsewhere. Local and visiting artists have installed wallscapes of thousands of tiny spines, or sound installations based on the aurora borealis, and more. 

Amanda Barr, a co-director since spring of 2019, said they weren't sure of how any potential renovations of the building as part of the new Bike and Type coworking space would affect their rental as a viable exhibition room, so the co-directors are letting the lease expire at the end of July instead of renewing for three years.

Nick Caras, who bought the building to renovate it into Bike and Type, said he wanted to see more frequent use of the alley space than First Friday events and offered an extension of the lease and had hoped to come to a solution. In the future, he hopes to have local artists make use of the alley through murals or exhibitions.

The gallery co-directors, meanwhile, are hunting for a new location.

"I haven't really found a place yet that would work for us, and we're not having in-person shows in August because of COVID, so it's not been like a rush to find a space," Barr said. They're "open to anything," she added, and as long as it suits their needs, they can be flexible.

Ideally, they'd like something that resembles their current space: small and minimal, in the vicinity of downtown or the Hip Strip or the UM campus.

It's also cheap — rent was only about $230 a month, an affordable amount for a student-run enterprise. The bills are paid entirely by MFA students from UM who sign up as "co-directors." They manage the space and choose exhibitions, independent of any oversight or funding from the school, and pass it along to the next generation. They do get some help via private donations. There's a minimal $10 exhibition application fee that helps contribute.

Some prior co-directors formally converted it to a nonprofit, and they hold an annual fundraiser auction, which often features work donated by UM faculty or local working artists.

Barr, who's earning an MFA in ceramics and an MA in art history, joined because of the curatorial experience it offers — she's run her own studio and has experience with web design and marketing that she thought would be helpful to the group.

She also thought it was an uncommon space that you can't find in all arts-heavy communities, and makes a complementary contribution to the downtown, where their offerings get thrown into the mix down the street from landscape paintings and more traditional First Friday openings.

"I think it's a really unique space because we're not a sales-oriented gallery," she said. (They do allow artists to sell work.) However, they're very open to younger or emerging artists who are "just trying to dip their toes in the water, or experience working with a gallery for the first time." They've also hosted professional artists, and artists who are instructors and might not have enough time to do a full gallery show.

"Also, our mission is to bring some alternative art and diverse programming, so we've had the ability to bring in sound artists and media artists who are projecting on the walls" or other ways of pushing their mediums.

In the interim, Barr said they still have online exhibitions going up. Daphne Sweet, an undergraduate at UM, hung and photographed paintings that will be shared online. Some of Barr's co-directors aren't in Missoula right now, so only she and another will have to move the white gallery walls and track lighting, likely into storage.

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