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Missoula's arts venues turn out the lights to stave off pandemic

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Art requires an audience, and so do venues. What do they look like when they need to keep people away?

The state’s order closing non-essential businesses placed the arts community in Missoula on pause, as the gathering places where Missoula residents love to gather turned out their lights for the near future.

The speed of the reversal was startling. At the start of the year, it appeared that Missoula was going to have a record year for the arts, one of its points of pride. New buildings for the Radius Gallery and the Zootown Arts Community Center were drawing elbow-to-elbow crowds on First Friday. A weekly raft of concert announcements on social media left people with privileged problems, like deciding which of the many bands they wanted to see. On a brisk Saturday night in February, there were sold-out shows at the ZACC, the Missoula Art Museum and the Wilma. Sidewalks and galleries were clustered with people on First Friday in March, the last art walk for some time.

Community is an overused word in Missoula, but it’s that way for a reason. These places play host to art, whether that means paintings or sculptures or music or indie films or plays, but their underlying mission is to give us a space where life happens — a model that’s expressly forbidden for health reasons.

They’re now quarantined — doors closed and locked and marquees dimmed, but the artists and employees are at home, devising ways to bring people together when the time is right.

Photos of Missoula's temporarily closed arts venues

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