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PLAINS - Arts enthusiasts from Sanders County have formed the area's first official arts council as a conduit for philanthropy and as a foundation for promoting the arts in a rural region.

"We want to promote the theater, music, painting, all the arts, throughout Sanders County so we're not sitting here like some kind of backward area," said Sanders County Arts Council president Bob Mandich, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Plains who is active in the all-volunteer Clark Fork Valley Community Choir.

So far, the council has had only one meeting since it was officially granted 501-3-C (nonprofit, tax-deductible) status. Officers and trustees come from volunteers from Paradise, Plains and Thompson Falls. But the call is out to involve more people from throughout the county, to ensure wide geographic, artistic and philanthropic representation.

The council was formed with the help of a $5,000 anonymous gift from a local patron, said Jean Morrison, treasurer. Now that the council is formed and has the gift-deduction tax status, it will serve as a conduit for other donations, she said.

Tax-deductible gifts totaling $22,000 were funneled through the new council to assure that Montana Repertory Theater productions will continue to come to Sanders County each year. The Montana Rep has been visiting routinely, through the involvement of a local women's club. But the Arts Council will offer continuity, an institutional structure and its nonprofit status to local groups, such as local community theaters.

"If they come on board, they will be able to seek donations that are tax-deductible," Morrison said.

"The people here want to see arts coming to the county," she said. The Arts Council status will enable it to seek grants from other agencies, as well.

The official mission is "foster and promote all forms of art through public performances, workshops, exhibits and any other appropriate means" throughout Sanders County, she said.

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The council may invite a group of musicians from Portland, Ore., who specialize in performing baroque music on instruments of the period, for example, as well as the Cascade Quartet, a string group from the Great Falls Symphony that tours throughout Montana and has performed in the county in previous years.

For information, or to volunteer, call Mandich at (406) 826-3568 or Morrison, (406) 826-3600.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com

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