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HISTORY OF ARTS MISSOULA

The Missoula Cultural Exchange, later known as the Missoula Cultural Council (MCC) and now Arts Missoula, was formed in February 1991 as the result of a two year public planning process. Literally hundreds of individuals and organizational representatives attended public meetings and contributed to the planning work. A written report, The Fabric of Missoula, provided the basis for the formation of a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, the first local arts agency in the state.

The first Board of Directors was assembled in February 1991. The goal was to establish a balanced governing body, broadly representative of the community as a whole.

The Board of Directors adopted a three-year organizational plan which had been developed during the second phase of planning work. The priorities, programs and services are based on the planning work and the definition and criteria for a Local Arts (Cultural) Agency established by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies. In May, 1991 the Missoula Cultural Council was designated by the Missoula County Commissioners as an official cultural agency for Missoula County. City designation was approved by the board in May, 1992.

Arts Missoula operates with a philosophy of service to the public. Public meetings, focus groups and citizen task forces have played an integral part of many programs, activities and planning work.

Early programs for the organization were run by volunteers and part-time contract staff. In September 1991, the first Executive Director, Maeta Kaplan, was hired. In January 1992, MCC opened a suite of offices which included an art exhibit space, resource library, private offices and ample conference/meeting space. The office was relocated to smaller quarters in 1996.  Barbara Koostra served as ED for four years, and was followed by Mark Martin, who served for seven years, departing in 2004.  During his tenure, the organization launched the Cultural Tourism Initiative and became an affiliate of the national Business Committee for the Arts.  Tom Bensen is the current Executive Director, serving since 2004.  The subsequent merger with First Night Missoula, and the expansion of the annual events and web-based activities have resulted in continued growth for the organization.

Past funding for the organization has included a mix of public and private funds including the following sources: private contributions, local government funds and in-kind services, NEA Locals Program Stabilization Funds, fee for services, Montana Cultural Trust, Montana Arts Council, foundation grants, business sponsorships, individual donations, and event admission sales. In 2010 the board voted to become a membership organization.

Arts Missoula currently focuses on these ongoing projects: Economic Development through the arts; Cultural Tourism and promotion of artistic and cultural events and programming throughout Missoula; Cultural Diplomacy and Missoula’s Sister City Program; and these annual events – First Night Missoula, Germanfest, New Zealand Day, and the annual Awards Lunch.  In addition, Arts Missoula has partnered with the City of Missoula, Missoula County Public Schools, the University of Montana, and artists and organizations to help lead SPARK! – Arts Ignite Learning, the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child initiative.  In 2015 the board of directors also approved the fiscal sponsorship of the Montana Book Festival, and the following year approved fiscal sponsorship of Honoring Our Missoula Community Pow Wow.  In 2016 Arts Missoula began providing administrative assistance to the city’s Public Art Committee at the request of the mayor and city council.

In 2016, the board of directors officially changed the organization name from Missoula Cultural Council to Arts Missoula. With strong representation from the business community, the current Board of Directors and Executive Director are continually refocusing Arts Missoula’s efforts to fulfill its mission and vision of art and culture in Missoula.