A pilot program will embed artists at historic or place-based organizations around western Montana this spring, summer and fall.
OpenAIR stands for Open Artists in Residence. The founders are Missoula painter and muralist Hadley Ferguson and Stoney Sasser, an artist and fellow University of Montana alum.
"A residency is a really wonderful way to do that because it provides the artists a sustained period of time to focus on their practice, separate from the business of everyday life, and additionally lets them connect to a new community of people and bring in fresh ideas," Sasser said.
The residencies will give artists access to resources and spaces to work, after which they'll present their work to the public. It's open to all media, from visual artists to performance-based artists to writers and musicians.
The spring sites are the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the Moon-Randolph Homestead, Home ReSource and the Flathead Lake Biological Station. In the summer, they'll offer an artist experience in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness through a partnership with the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation. For a complete list of available sites and dates (which vary by the season), head to openairmt.org.
This first round is specifically for Montana artists. The summer and fall residencies are open to everyone, whether local, national or international.
They reached out host organizations that have a relationship to "place and environment," she said.
"Many of the places have resource libraries and huge historical archives, and so it just seems like a really dreamy opportunity for somebody, an artist to come in and explore the history of place and site," she said.
The program is the first venture from Western Montana Creative Initiatives, a nonprofit started by Ferguson and Sasser, with Missoula Community Foundation acting as their fiscal sponsor.
They're going to raise money both privately, and through an online campaign, to provide artists a stipend.
Ferguson, who produced murals on women's role in Montana history for the state Capitol, said that residencies have been important to her artistic career.
She attended two residencies in Patagonia, Arizona, for instance, where she was free from show and commission deadlines or distractions.
"When you're out on a residency, it's just the opposite of that. It gives you time to explore and it did give me things to bring home and incorporate into my professional practices," she said.
Sasser said the residencies allow a focus on "process versus product."
"Although products come out of process, the real meat and potatoes of practice in the arts is process, and so to give both the time and space to develop process, experiment with process and also let others peer into what that looks like is a real neat part of developing residencies," she said.
Home ReSource, which sells recycled building materials, has hosted artists in the past.
"We're really here to help folks realize the potential of materials, and part of that is our day-to-day operations as a building material re-use center," said Jeremy Drake, the community engagement manager.
Last year, for instance, they hosted a sculptor and recent University of Montana MFA graduate for a residency. Tyler Brumfield drew on the materials to build "an amazing collection of tables and from particle board and old fence beams," Drake said.
The OpenAIR organizers have also reached out to organizations like MCAT, the Montana Natural History Center and Free Cycles community bike shop, that can provide artists resources to work with.
Community engagement will be an important part, too. For instance, after the spring residencies, the artists will give talks and share their work and experiences at Free Cycles.