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Counting Coup Indian art gallery to close its doors

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Citing financial woes, Missoula’s Counting Coup art galley will soon close its doors. But organizers say they will still provide services for American Indian artists, and hope to open a new storefront in the near future.

“We’re not shutting down,” says Shawn Crawford, the cooperative’s executive director. “We’re just regrouping.”

The gallery, which features Native American artwork from around the region, opened last year at 135 East Main Street in Missoula. Crawford says the venture has been unable to generate enough income to cover its bills, and the cooperative is working on new approaches to help Indian artisans prosper.

One plan, she says, is to create a presence on the Internet so artists can reach a broader audience. One problem at the gallery was that with all the works on consignment, displayed artwork—especially the larger pieces—were often taken on the road by their owners, which affects continuity and supply. Organizers would like to build up their stock of smaller items, which tend to sell more quickly.

“The market’s there,” Crawford says. “We just needed more cash up front. The Web page will provide the marketplace without all the expense.”

Another challenge is that the cooperative, which is primarily run by University of Montana students, has relied on busy volunteers to staff the gallery. Having paid staff would make the operation more successful, says Crawford, a member of the Fort Peck Tribes who holds a master’s degree in Business Administration.

Along with running the gallery, a main focus of the cooperative has been to offer community workshops on Native American arts and crafts. Those offerings will continue, as well as sponsorships of readings and other area cultural events. Along with preserving tribal culture, Crawford says the activities will continue to promote a better understanding of native peoples and their work. Increased familiarity, she believes, will help breed financial success.

After the gallery closes at the end of the month, Crawford will start a new job as head of Fort Peck Community College’s new e-commerce education program. She hopes to still find time to finish the cooperative’s business plan and help find more outside funding. Eventually, the group hopes to establish a reserve fund to buy work outright and open a new and larger facility. Another goal is to have enough money to provide loans to artists who don’t have enough funding to complete their projects.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Crawford says, of her time at the gallery’s helm. “A lot of time and energy was spent just keeping the doors open. We’re going to try a few new things.”

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