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Silver Theater collapse spares 'Tree of Resilience'

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Crushed by the weight of snow and water, the roof of the Silver Theater took out most everything beneath it when it caved in earlier this month. The collapse split the freshly remodeled building down the middle, claiming a new movie projector and a venue for the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, which was then less than two weeks away.

As an excavator picked at the rubble, Carolyn Maier, executive director of the Morris and Helen Silver Foundation, which owns the theater, kept her eye out for something else: a large, intricate sculpture that she and fellow artist Hadley Ferguson had created. Called the "Tree of Resilience," the steel and copper structure was designed as the centerpiece of an art installation about Parkinson's disease that premiered at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture last May. Maier spotted the sculpture beneath a piece of roof, which was draped over the metal like a canopy. The excavator operator pushed the crumbling concrete wall away from the area, and by 10:30 p.m. the art was revealed.

True to its name, "Tree of Resilience" was unscathed.

Maier says she looks at the spared sculpture as one bright spot in an otherwise devastating blow to the nonprofit. After purchasing the former World Theater in 2015, the foundation was putting the finishing touches on an interior remodel aimed at renewing the building at 2023 South Higgins Ave. into an arts and community space. Since the roof collapsed on Feb. 4, local media outlets have tried to probe its cause, noting that while no one was injured, hundreds of moviegoers were to have packed the venue for the upcoming film festival. Maier declined to discuss details of the situation, citing ongoing discussions with the building's insurer, except to say that staffers had been aware of the roof's condition and were working to remove snow and ice about a week prior to its failure.

"It wasn't just like all of a sudden the roof fell down," she says.

Material from the "Capturing Moments: Living Life with Parkinson's" installation was being stored inside the theater after exhibition at the World Parkinson Congress last fall. The tree consists of 40 branches holding more than 4,000 iron mesh leaves, each of which features a quote provided by someone whose life was affected by the disease.

When the building came down, Maier was finalizing an agreement to exhibit the project in Washington, D.C., later this year. That's one plan the foundation won't have to change.

"There's not a scratch on it, pretty much," Maier says.

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