Hidden Gems: Frontier Space Missoula

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Located in the alley behind the Old Post Pub, Frontier Space Missoula is a gallery that operates almost like a speakeasy for art. The only official times they open to the public are during First Friday – though there are occasional poetry readings and other performances that happen throughout the month. An inconspicous door leads you from the brick and pavement of the alley into a small gallery space no larger than a janitorial closet (which may well have been the space’s original purpose), yet this little gallery has been known to host upwards of 300 people in a night.

Why is it so popular? Because in every way Frontier Space is a unique experience for Missoulians. You won’t find any Charlie Russell imitators hanging on these walls. Their mission is to bring us provocative, contemporary art that is meant to spark discussion and open a dialogue on social issues. The gallery in the alley focuses on bringing exhibits that cannot be found in Missoula or the region. For four years this gallery has been committed to expanding the scope of Missoula’s art scene, and we hope they will continue doing so for a long time to come.

Founded by former MFA students William Hutchison and Nathan Tonning, Frontier Space is an independent gallery funded almost exclusively by the co-directors (currently Tyler Nansen & Tressa Jones). It is a labor of love that has passed through several hands committed to maintaining a space for alternative, contemporary and bold artists and their work.

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On September’s First Friday (September 5, 5-10 pm) Frontier Space will host its first ever fundraising show. The show will feature over 40 works of art in a silent auction with minimum bids starting as low as $20 for some pieces. Co-director Tyler Nansen explains that a wide range of work has been included not only to raise funds, but to showcase the scope of artistic experiences Missoulians can expect from Frontier Space. “Smaller works are included to make the event more accessible – making art accessible is something we really believe in here.” While larger pieces with price tags to match are being brought in with the hopes of a sale, but with the main intent being to share these unique and beautiful works with the community. Live music, food and drinks will accompany the art, and attendees will have the opportunity to get a silk screened shirt from local print maker Jack Metcalf.

A big goal for the gallery is to be able to provide return shipping fees. It sounds like a simple thing, but consider that the cost of shipping art – particularly instillations or sculpture – across the country can quickly add up to over $300 each way. For larger and more traditional shows like the Dana Gallery’s Icons of the West, this isn’t as much of a concern. The costs will be asorbed by the sales the show provides. However at Frontier Space the focus of the gallery is more on the experience of art than the purchase and with only a few hours on Friday to display the work the artist can’t expect to cover the costs involved.

Being able assist with these costs can open the door for this gallery to bring in a much broader range of artists, allowing Missoulians the opportunity to experience new and innovative works otherwise unavailable to them. Other small improvements are looking to be made as well, but the main focus is on securing the gallery in future years.

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Frontier Space fills a vital role in our community, not only for the unique and innovative art they display, not just as a space for emerging artists in need of a non-traditional gallery, but for their contribution to a larger trend in Missoula.

Most other towns in America experience a significant amount of “brain drain”, and certainly Missoula is not entirely exempt, but what is so inspiring about our town and in this case our gallery in the alley, is that more often than not Missoulians will build what’s missing in their community rather than leave in search of it.

Frontier Space is so important to our community because it helps refute the idea that art, particularly bold and contemporary works, can only really be found in major cities. Missoula is a town packed with talented artists working in every genre and discipline and rather than scatter them to chase dreams in big cities across the country, Frontier Space and places like it help to foster these artists, give them a space, and allow us as a community to enjoy a rich and vibrant culture without having to leave the mountains.

Frontier Space Missoula is located in the alley behind the Old Post Pub. First Friday’s event will run from 5 to 10 pm with the silent auction closing at 8:30 pm. Admission is free.

For more art and culture activities coming up, visit our blog on Make it Missoula.