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The Zootown Arts Community Center is going small for its inaugural gala fundraiser.

But only in the sense that the almost 100 art pieces in the event’s auction are no bigger than 6 inches by 6 inches and attendees will be treated to a smorgasbord of tiny treats created by Missoula’s top chefs.

ZACC’s first {mini} Benefit Show is Friday at the center. The night includes a mini cocktail hour hosted by Montgomery Distillery, an art auction featuring 93 mini pieces from 60 artists and the “mini chef challenge,” when 17 chefs from Missoula restaurants compete for {mini} awards.

“I see us as a little art center that is growing. It’s kind of fun to do a mini show,” said Kia Liszak, ZACC executive director. “This is our first time doing what will be our signature event.”

The mini art pieces will be on display and auctioned off by Missoula Mayor John Engen.

Sculptures, paintings, ceramic and photography pieces have been submitted. The smallest pieces are 1 inch by 2 inches, Liszak said.

All the proceeds go to helping the nonprofit arts center run its myriad programs, including its summer arts camps, adult art education classes and fund its public print shop and pottery shop.

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The Mini Chef Challenge will begin with the Savory Challenge, when 11 mini selections – like Tagliare Delicatessen’s mega sandwich in mini form or mini twice-baked potatoes – are served to attendees.

“That’s how we will feed our guests. They will dine on the mini creations,” Liszak said.

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Celebrity food judges are Greg Patent and Jon Jackson, the “Food Guys” from Montana Public Radio, and Good Food Store cooking school assistant Emily Goodburn.

Submissions will be judged on taste, creative response to the challenge and artistry, Liszak said.

The Savory Challenge will include entries from Posh Chocolat, the Silk Road, Mercantile Deli, Tagliare Delicatessen, the Empanada Joint, Riverside Cafe, Bravo! Catering, Philly West, the Top Hat. Blue Canyon Kitchen and Masala Food Cart.

When it comes time for dessert, tables can bid on plates of mini sweets made by chefs from Pearl Cafe, Le Petite Outre, Bernice’s Bakery, Posh Chocolat, the Mercantile Deli, the Silk Road, Burns St. Bistro and Black Cat Bake Shop.

The desserts will also be judged.

Eden Atwood and Secret Powers will perform during the event.

The art pieces from the event will remain at the ZACC for the month of April. The center is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.

Although the event is being held at ZACC this year, Liszak hopes it will outgrow the center next year.

“We really hope to grow this and have it be something that chefs and restaurants look forward to year round. It’s a chance for them to showcase the amazing things they’re doing, and that artists will be thinking year-round what their mini creation will be.”

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Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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