When artist Patricia Thornton first arrived in Missoula five years ago, The Catalyst Café already had a strong reputation among local artists and fans of downtown's First Friday Art Walk. Co-owners Martha Buser and Kelly Sax first opened the coffee shop for art shows in 2000, and developed a dedicated crowd at the monthly event.
"Martha and Kelly were huge art supporters," says Thornton, who's been the curator for The Catalyst's art shows over the last four years. "Not only did they put on the event, but they bought wine for it, made food, and they usually even bought a piece from the artist. Galleries don't even do those things, so artists really felt like kings there."
Four months ago, Buser and Sax sold The Catalyst to Denis Keast and Jim O'Byrne. The menu hasn't changed much—the tortilla lime soup is still one of the most beloved lunch items in town—but when it comes to opening the doors for after-hours art shows, the new owners aren't on board.
"It's really a time issue," says Keast. "We're just really trying to concentrate on the restaurant. At this point [First Friday] is more of a drain on our focus."
Thornton says when she first found out that the new owners would no longer open for First Friday, she had to cancel artists already booked through February, including her husband's planned October show. Tim Thornton has displayed his work every October the past few years.
Despite dropping First Friday shows, The Catalyst isn't completely done with showcasing local artists. Keast says the café will continue to have Thornton curate a rotating gallery of art on display during normal restaurant hours. Thornton says she's happy to still be the curator, though the change is hard.
"I do realize that First Friday is not on their radar," she says. "They want a restaurant and First Friday is not a part of that. I guess I just want it to be the old Catalyst and they want it to be the new Catalyst."