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Seven years ago, the Zootown Arts Community Center launched its annual Mini Benefit Show.

The nonprofit, which offers affordable art programs and classes of all stripes for all ages, wanted to auction off small pieces to help fund its work. "Small" meaning 12 inches by 12 inches by 12, although the art and the event have expanded.

"It's been growing. I feel like the event has gotten better each and every year," said Kia Liszak, the executive director.

The exhibition has a total of 67 pieces, and 12 of those are now "mega," not "mini." They include an airy night scene of downtown Missoula by painter M. Scott Miller, whose work has been featured on New Yorker covers, to a brass-pipe figurative sculpture by Jace Laakso, titled "Copperman Dreams of the Richest Hill on Earth," that's tall enough to wear an NBA player's suit.

Last year, the show, held to a sold-out crowd of more than 200 at The Wilma, raised just under $50,000. The goal this year is just higher.

"We need to make at least $50,000 for our operations," Liszak said.

While the Northside building stays bustling with classes, the center is also in the midst of a capital campaign to raise $4.25 million to pay for its new headquarters at the Studebaker Building downtown.

"As we've been putting such an enormous amount of energy into our capital campaign, obviously we are still operating every day; we still have kids coming in every day, we're still giving scholarships every day, so it's really important we keep up our operations funding," Liszak said.

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This year, more than 85 pieces were submitted for the auction.

"Going through the jurying process, we try to make it a well-rounded example of our community's work. We love to take pieces from high-end, well-known artists as much as we love to take pieces from children and emerging artists," Liszak said.

The "mini" pieces start at $50 and can sell for many times that amount. The "megas" will start in four-figure range.

The big ones include a wavy-abstract fiber wall piece by Teresa Garland Warner, an abstract painting by Tricia Opstad; a bird, carved in wood and painted in bright colors, by John Thompson. He made the dragon "pony" for A Carousel for Missoula. James Todd, the printmaker, contributed a scene of a jazz musician.

Alissa Wynne donated a piece that has a very ZACC flavor. Her painting, "Elegant Procession 1: Candy and Jam," is centered on a two-headed fantastical creature, one head a kitten, one a puppy with a unicorn horn, in a candy-colored landscape.

Well-known local artists donated to the "mini" portion, such as Stephanie Frostad, Shalene Valenzuela, Patricia Thornton, Stephen Glueckert and more.

Madeline Mikolon's "Ravine" renders an abstracted landscape in delicate, precise brushstrokes. Jadyn Velazquez contributed a diorama, "The Real American Dream 2018," of a fall-down barn and tractor, built inside a narrow tin. Ivette Kjelsrud created a triptych of encaustics, in which the melted wax medium formed flowing streams and pools of color.

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The auction, held at the Wilma, will be emcee'd by Reid Reimers, the towering personality from "Rocky Horror Live" and SciShow. Silent-auction bidding starts on Friday at the opening, and proxy bids are available during the live event.

There will another hallowed "Golden Ticket" again this year in the live auction. The winner is entitled to admission to all shows by donor Logjam Presents, which runs the Top Hat Lounge, the Wilma, the KettleHouse Amphitheater, and will have shows at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field this summer. (Last year, the ticket sold for $4,000.)

There will be a call for donations to the new building, where the ZACC will move in this spring.

The two-story space will increase the square footage from 8,500 to 17,000, with room for three designated classrooms, 10 rental studios, a community print shop, three galleries, a paint-your-own-pottery studio, music practice spaces, a walk-in interactive art area, a performance space and more.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, they're holding an open house at the new building from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They're still seeking donations, and are hosting a site visit from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

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