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Missoula area arts nonprofits receive NEA grants

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060421-mis-nws-ZACC Gallery-01.jpg (copy)

Patricia Thornton from Zootown Arts Community Center finishes putting up hand paintings on the Blackfoot Communications Art Lounge for an art gallery presented by Missoula community artist Stella Nall in June 2021.

Five western Montana nonprofit arts organizations will receive grants of $100,000 to $150,000 through the National Endowment of the Arts’ latest round.

The money comes from the American Rescue Plan and may be used as “funding to save jobs, and to fund operations and facilities, health and safety supplies, and marketing and promotional efforts to encourage attendance and participation," according to an NEA news release sent on Thursday.

In Missoula, the Zootown Arts Community Center will get $150,000. Western Montana Creative Initiatives, which runs the Open AIR artist residency program, will get $100,000.

In Pablo, A VOICE, a program that teaches photography to students at Two Eagle River School, will receive $100,000.

In Helena, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts was awarded $150,000, as was the Mountain Time Arts organization in Bozeman.

Open AIR, the artist-in-residency program, places visiting artists at sites in western Montana, as diverse as University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station and the Moon Randolph Homestead, to the Montana Natural History Center and Travelers' Rest State Park. The artists have access to the sites’ resources, and space and time to work, and also give talks for the public, culminating in an exhibition.

The funding will go toward artist stipends, and to hire a program coordinator. Currently, executive director Stoney Samsoe is the only employee.

“This is transformational for us,” Samsoe said. “The ability to increase our bandwidth and continue to support the arts and cross-sector programming in a meaningful way, as to bring our work into visibility on a national level, is pretty exciting.”

A VOICE, which stands for Art Vision & Outreach in Community Education, brings photography classes to Two Eagle River School in Pablo and reaches students across the Flathead Reservation, giving them the skills to document their lives and community and express themselves through images.

Past projects from the program, started and run by photographer David Spear and Jill Erickson, have included exhibitions of the students’ work, as well as trips to New York and New Mexico to shoot photos, visit museums, photo centers and in the latter case, the Institute of American Indian Arts.

The grant is “new territory for us,” Spear said, and its largest to date. This year marks its 20th anniversary, and up until now all prior funding had to go directly back into programming. This grant allows them to look at investments in administration and internships to help broaden its outreach and growth.

Last year, they launched a new website,, that highlights student work and are looking at an expanded publication of a book with photos covering the program’s history.

The ZACC, which opened in its large new building downtown Missoula in late 2019, has a long list of programs — they include community and youth galleries; classes for adults and children in visual art, writing, music and more; a recording studio; affordable studio spaces for rent; a printmaking shop; and a performance space called the Show Room.

"We are super grateful," said Executive Director Kia Liszak. "It will help support staff and operations as we continue to weather the pandemic. When we created our budget this year, we realized we are still facing many unknowns and a long road to normal. We were forced to budget for a loss rather than lay anyone off or cut programs, so this money will be instrumental for just keeping us going." 

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