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BUTTE - A Butte woman is launching a statewide concert tour to replace the $100,000 stripped from the Montana Arts Council budget in the closing hours of the 2003 Legislature.

"This loss of funding for the arts council has the potential of seriously wounding, or even destroying some of Montana's cultural treasures, particularly in its small communities," said Helen Miller, operator of the Mother Lode Theatre here and a former member of the Arts Council.

The first performance of "Arts Aid: A Concert for Montana," will be June 19 in the Mother Lode Theater in Butte.

Other concerts are planned for Whitefish, Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, Billings and Hamilton, but dates have not been set, Miller said. The shows are expected to run through October.

The performers will be Eden Atwood and The Last Best Band and Rob Quist and Great Northern. All proceeds will be given to the arts council.

The groups will perform for a small stipend and are asking the theaters to donate their stages and staff, Miller said. In Butte, ticket prices are $15 for the main floor and $12 for the balcony.

"Cultural institutions across the state have looked to the arts council for funding via a rigorous grant application process since the agency's beginning in 1967," she said.

She said a theater in Choteau, for example, may not be able to book concerts without this upfront money.

Carol Jette, a co-director of the Museum and Arts Center in Anaconda, said the council money often works behind the scenes.

"We use it to help fund our artist-in-the-schools program," Jette said. "It's a great resource. It also helps fund the Missoula Children's Theater which brings a show to Anaconda every year."

Miller's Mother Lode once received a $7,000 grant for a two-year period.

"Now, $7,000 may not make or break the Mother Lode, though it surely hurts to lose it," Miller said. "But the smaller cities across the state will really be hurt."

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