Bursting at the Seams: MMAC is Overflowing with Art

The Montana Museum of Art & Culture is bringing Japan to Missoula tonight in the form of a new exhibit – Japanese Woodblock Prints: An Extension of the Impermanent. Among walls displaying works of Japanese masters from the late 18th to the early 20th century, attendees will be welcomed with Japenese cuisine and a shamisen performance by Visiting Assistant Professor of Composition Simon Hitchinson. Also included in the evening are demonstrations of woodblock printing techniques from the UM School of Art’s printmaking department – these demos come with free prints for attendees.

Tonight’s reception represents one of numerous events and programs the MMAC offers the community each year.  The Permanent Collection  objects this exhibit presents reflects only a fraction of what the museum has to offer. The exhibit – which runs through April 19 – is on display courtesy of private collectors and a South Dakota museum; however it is only a drop in the bucket compared to what the museum holds in its permanent collection.

The Permanent Collection has been around for over a century. In that time the Collection has grown to an overwhelming 11,000 original works. Housed in sites throughout campus, the MMAC boasts a collection of indigenous work, Montana art, and masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt all the way to Warhol.

With nearly 120 years of dedication to art, MMAC has earned a reputation for excellence. That reputation has allowed them to bring in exhibitions that may have never come to Montana otherwise. Everything from Picasso and Chagall to the current Japanese Woodblock exhibit has graced the walls of these small galleries.

If you have ever been to the Paxson or Meloy galleries on campus, it’s difficult to think of the sheer volume of art that the MMAC holds in its Permanent Collection. The galleries reside in the UM PARTV Center – a building that is designed to feature the performing arts. The galleries are tucked away on either end of the rear entrance. You could walk in the building and never know a gallery was there.


Through a comprehensive program filled with docent tours, opening receptions, lectures, presentations and satellite exhibitions, the museum has made its galleries known to the community. However, it still begs the question of why such an impressive and enormous collection has only a few walls to work with, a question the MMAC has been grappling with for a long time. Plans are underway to expand the museum – and our ability to enjoy these works – but it is going to take a lot of funding and they need the full support of our community.

Currently the MMAC is only capable of displaying 0.5% of their total collection at any given time. Let’s put that in perspective. Assume that you first came to the museum as a ten year old on a school field trip and that exhibits rotate roughly every two months. In order to see all of the work the MMAC has to offer you would be 43 years old before they could cycle through the permanent collection. Add to that the numerous opportunities the museum receives to expose Montanans to priceless and important works of art from travelling collections and it would take a lifetime or more to get through all the MMAC has to offer – in their current space.

The MMAC’s need is clear and has been for a long time. The only question that remains is will we, as a community, address it? Is access to priceless and important works of art important to you?

Missoula is many things to the people who live here. We have a wealth of natural beauty and outdoor recreation which sets us apart from a large part of the nation. However, in our region this asset is in common supply. What distinguishes us as a community is not just access to the wilderness, but a combination of our natural beauty and vibrant arts community. Missoula generates as much economic activity from the arts as San Diego – a city five times our population. Art isn’t just for the soul in this community, it is a means to grow and strengthen our economy.

Considering this, do you think that the MMAC’s proposed new building is an important addition to our community? And furthermore are you willing to lend your support and get involved?