Kevin Bell and Geoff Sutton unwrapped shipping boxes filled with art like it was Christmas morning on Wednesday in Zootown Brew.

Bell, the director of the UM School of Art, and Sutton, who sits on the board of directors of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, were preparing for "Grad-itude," an all-alumni art show and sale.

It was the first of its kind in years, Bell said. At least the first since he started at UM a decade ago.

“They’re a pretty important force,” he said. “Our alumni are staffing nearly every major cultural center in the region … this is just a small sampling.”

Bell and Sutton put out the call to as many alumni they could find and around 50 responded, giving them plenty of art to display. The artists agreed to donate sale proceeds to the art program as well, some giving 100 percent, some splitting 50-50.

There’s works of many mediums, from artists that graduated last year alongside graduates from 50 years ago.

Sutton unwrapped a series of three multimedia pieces from Shelby Baldridge, now based in Portland, that depicted honeycombs through paint and 3-D sculpture.

“We have some ceramics!” Bell exclaimed, pulling bubble-wrapped pieces out of a box.

These sculptures — covered in bright glazes, with tendril-y arms — were from Karl Schwiesow, a UM master's student who graduated in 2017.

To Bell’s eyes, the amount of graduates who are still active artists refutes a cliché that art students don’t practice after they leave school.

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“It’s amazing how many of our students are still out there making work,” he said.

Sutton, formerly the gallery owner of SuttonWest, organized the show and sale to benefit the art program as part of a cross-school initiative to stay active in the face of budget cuts at the university.

He’s seen all of the programs under the College of Visual and Performing Arts come a little bit closer in recent years, sharing resources and cross-pollinating ideas and performances.

“Institutional support is so small at this juncture,” Sutton said. “It’s amazing what all these schools do.”

He pointed out how strong the art program ties are with its alumni, from recent grads to some longtime, famous Missoula artists who donated to the show like Monte Dolack or Dana Boussard.

Dennis Kern, an artist, is a former curator and teacher at the university who ran the Gallery of Visual Arts and then-Museum of Fine Arts (now the Montana Museum of Art and Culture) in the early 1980s.

He was impressed at the breadth of art Sutton and Bell had pulled for the show, across generations he looked up to as a student.

“What’s really fun is when you see pieces by someone you knew years ago, and see what they’re doing now,” Kern said. “There’s some great artists.”

The three men stood and listed artists in the show. Sutton mentioned Jay Rummel — no, Kern said, he’s not in the show. But he might have a Rummel piece they could throw in.

“We’re still adding!” Sutton laughed.

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