Accessing the Arts



New funds help Missoula groups bring art and audiences together

It's easy to forget in a town like Missoula, with plays, exhibits, dance and music cropping up on a regular basis, that Montana suffers from a dearth of arts funding. The state ranks last in state legislative appropriations, and received only five National Endowment for the Arts grants last year. But in this year's round of appropriations, the number of grants bestowed upon the Treasure State more than doubled, with several of the proposals specifically targeting those rural areas most affected by the lack of access to the fine arts.

In the most recent spate of federal funding, 11 Montana arts organizations received grants, including the Montana Arts Council, which in turn distributes grants of its own. Most of the groups received funds under the designation of "Education and Access," to support programs that enter schools or take the fine arts to those who may not have the resources to support artistic ventures in their communities.

While several of the grants may enrich life in Missoula in the months to come, with at least three of the groups taking their culture on the road, two Missoula-based organizations earned five-digit sums to support their own arts programming.

The Montana Repertory Theatre plans to use its $13,000 grant to send a small touring company to high schools and middle schools across the state. While the program is still in the planning stages, actors will play the role of teachers during week-long residencies that culminate in some kind of presentation, says Greg Johnson, one of the directors of the company.

Photo by Chad Harder
Alayne Dolson, executive director of both Very Special Arts and Young Audiences, recently received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to fund dance instruction and performances in rural parts of the state.

Meanwhile, a consortium of Very Special Arts Montana, Young Audiences of Western Montana, and the Montana Transport Company will also travel beyond the valley using their $10,000 in NEA funding to introduce rural areas to performances and instruction in dance. Alayne Dolson, executive director of both Very Special Arts and Young Audiences, sees the combined staff and budget of the three organizations as a greater force to immerse students, adults and children with disabilities into the artistic and physical release of dance.

Both Johnson and Dolson believe that their position in a rural state may have acted as an outstanding feature in their grant applications, an opinion borne out by the recent inception of the NEA's ArtsREACH program, which bestowed money on six Montana communities to promote the arts both within their area and throughout the state. These grants are reserved for only those states that scored less than six NEA grants in either 1996 or 1997, including both North and South Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming.

"The NEA has a real strong interest in promoting dance in Montana because it's not as prevalent in performance or school programs," postulated Dolson. In fact, she notes an attempt last year to survey the state's school dance programs faltered because there weren't even enough programs to take part. Modern dance wavered a few years ago in schools because of a lack of education, exposure and awareness, Dolson adds, leaving people wary of an art form that some considered lewd, scary and inappropriate for children. "We want to give kids the opportunity to do something physical that's not competitive, and is lifelong fitness as compared to most sports."

The longevity factor is key to the Montana Rep's success, says Johnson, in establishing the troupe's track record of bringing theater to small rural towns. With this outreach, the group will look toward empowering the communities they visit with the skills to keep producing plays after the Rep itself has left.

Whatever the key attraction, federal funds are essential in a state that ranks 56th among U.S. states and territories in per capita arts funding from local governments. In Fiscal Year 1998, only 33 percent of the Montana Arts Council income came from the state government, leaving federal money to support 60 percent of the budget that in turn aids arts organizations across the state.

That's what makes programs like ArtsREACH so important, says Karen Nelson of the NEA. "Montana is benefiting because that's money that wouldn't otherwise go to the state," she adds. Choteau, Eureka, Billings and three organizations in Bozeman all garnered funds ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, money that will allow those communities to work collaboratively, resulting not only in cultural enrichment, but possibly monetary enrichment as well, according to the up-and-coming concept of "cultural tourism."

This has become the great catch-phrase in arts funding over the past few years, as support for the arts has come to be seen as a possible economic booster. Specifically, cultural tourism advocates joining cultural events to the primary draw of scenic splendor to increase, it is hoped, the attraction of Montana as a tourist destination.

While neither Johnson or Dolson particularly see their organizations as essential components of a cultural tourism package, the presence of art necessarily spawns more art, an advantage to the residents as well as the tourists.

"People come here for the natural beauty and aren't as aware of the culture," says Johnson. "But the quality here is very high and there is a lot of integrity."

Dolson agrees. "We're not going to bring people flocking to Montana," she remarks wryly. The key to their success, she says, will be nurturing an awareness of all the arts.

Raised Stakes in Ronan

Flathead parent charges superintendent with discrimination


The ongoing strife between the parents of Native American students and Ronan School District No. 30 has been elevated to a new, more bureaucratic level. Toni Matt, whose children attend the district's schools on the Flathead Reservation, has filed a complaint against Superintendent Donn Livoni with the Montana Human Rights Commission, charging him with discrimination and making derogatory racial remarks. The state agency has 180 days from the date Matt filed the complaint, April 14, to complete the investigation.

According to Matt's documents, she and three other parents met with Livoni in early March concerning a district employee who was removed from his job as substitute teacher for inappropriate behavior, but employed later as a bus driver.

Ousted Indian Education Director Ben Irvine was also present at the meeting, which Matt says got heated because of what parents felt were school officials' repeated failures to address their concerns.

In describing the meeting with the superintendent, Matt says, "It got off to a bad start and stayed that way."

After the meeting concluded, the parents filed out, still upset. Irvine stayed behind. It was then, Irvine says, that Livoni turned to him and called the parents "vigilantes" and told him, though part of his job at the time was to act as a liaison between Indian parents and the school district, not to set up a meeting like that with a "bunch of Blackfeet" again.

In a rebuttal to Matt's complaint filed by the school district's attorneys, Livoni claims he doesn't remember calling the parents "vigilantes," but concedes he was "extremely dissatisfied" with the way the meeting went and the way the parents "conducted themselves."

"If I made any reference to the term 'vigilantes,'" he declares in his statement, "it was in the sense that I perceived the parents [sic] approach to the matter as being akin to 'vigilantes,' i.e., a group of individuals bent on obtaining the result they wanted and unwilling to listen to reason."

Livoni goes on to deny calling the parents a "bunch of Blackfeet." Repeated phone calls to his office by the Independent were not returned.

Matt says this already sticky situation was then further complicated by her struggle to present her concerns about Livoni to the Ronan School Board. School administrators informed her that she had to make her request to be on the board's agenda in writing, but when she drafted such a letter to school board chairman Jerry Smith following a telephone conversation, her appeal was denied.

According to the district's rebuttal, the board felt her explanation of what she wanted to discuss was too vague.

Livoni and Smith then drafted a letter to Matt explaining the official procedure to get on the board's agenda, but Matt didn't receive it due to a miscommunication.

Finally, on May 10, three months after Livoni's comments were allegedly made and almost a month after the complaint with the HRC was filed, an executive school board session to discuss Livoni's conduct was convened.

After hearing Matt's accusations of Livoni's racism, the all-white board declined to take any action on the matter.

An exasperated Clayton Matt, acting director of the Indian Education Committee, says Toni Matt's situation is the embodiment of the lack of access to administrators that he and other parents have been battling for months. He also says it seemed to be a situation where the superintendent and school board were not only able to decide the rules, but to make sure they were enforced down to the fine print.

"Although there is a policy, they don't have to make it so difficult," Clayton Matt notes. "Toni felt like she followed their policy, and she didn't feel welcome in the process."

He also submitted a letter to Livoni asking to view all the written requests he received over the past year by those who wanted to be put on the school board's agenda.

"The district's reply was that hers [Toni Matt's] was the only one they were aware of," Matt says, adding that he's attended many meetings where citizens were on the agenda.

For her part, Toni Matt says that although she was frustrated in her unsuccessful attempts to address the school board, it was not the driving force behind her complaint to the HRC.

"I filed that complaint solely because of Livoni's comments," she emphasizes. "My complaint wasn't about getting on the agenda."

Meanwhile, Livoni's alleged remarks and the discord in the community as a whole has gained the attention of the Flathead Human Rights Network president Ron Bick, who is also the editor of the Char-Koosta News.

"I'm a former school board member, and I'm extremely concerned about the allegations of not being able to get an audience with the school board," he says. "I don't buy the excuse of [Toni Matt] not following procedure."

Bick says in the near future, the FHRN will take an active role in this issue. Already, they have planned summer camps to help reservation youth realize their strengths and learn more about tribal traditions, which many say aren't discussed adequately in district classrooms. Toni Matt, meanwhile, is seeking an attorney to assist her with a reply to the school district's rebuttal. She is standing her ground, but not without a price.

"This whole thing has been very demeaning," she sighs. "I've cried a lot."

On the Street Where You Live

Neighborhood politics get ugly at UAHA's annual meeting


In one of the more bizarre reports of political powerplay in Missoula's civic forum, some residents of the University area have accused the board of directors of the University Area Homeowners Association (UAHA) of using exclusionary tactics to prevent new members from voting at the UAHA's annual meeting, from raising new business or from nominating their own candidates to open seats on the board of directors.

Meanwhile, UAHA board members have countered that the charges are utterly without merit, and the board's actions were entirely in keeping with the association's well-established by-laws that date back to May of 1973.

The controversy began on the evening of Thursday, May 20, when a group of homeowners attended the UAHA's annual meeting, some to renew old UAHA memberships, others looking to register as first-time members. Upon their arrival, however, all were handed membership application forms telling them that new members would not be allowed to vote until their names appeared on a "certified list" of UAHA members.

"They were ready for us," says UM law and philosophy professor Tom Huff, a 13-year homeowner in the University district and a new UAHA member. "All of us who wanted to participate in the meeting were effectively excluded."

Huff says that the board never explained what it meant by "certifying" new members, and the move was simply a maneuver to put off a motion by one UAHA member to open the floor to new nominations for three open seats on the nine-member board. Immediately following that motion, however, a second motion was instantly brought to close the nominations and to approve the existing nominees, who were hand-picked by the board. That motion carried.

Huff and other residents say they attended the meeting to see if they could get a resolution supporting a zoning variance for the former Freddy's Feed and Read building. That property was in the eye of a political hurricane several months ago when the building's owners filed a rezoning application to allow a proposed pizza restaurant and bakery on the site of the former bookstore.

Despite a spirited outpouring from many University area residents in support of the pizza place, and from the Neighborhood Council of the University District, the building's immediate neighbors raised opposition to the plan, which was supported by the UAHA board of directors. The rezoning application was eventually defeated by City Council.

The motion Thursday night to support the Freddy's rezoning resolution was also shot down, says Huff, because the board claimed the item was never on their agenda. Huff argues that the board had no formal agenda for the meeting, and simply didn't want to take up what might become a hotly debated issue.

"They shut us out by manipulating the process," said Molly Galusha, one of the residents renewing her membership at the meeting. "[The UAHA board] is a very exclusive group of people with a particular point of view, and that view is not at all representative of the neighborhood."

"There was no attempt to exclude anybody," says Ron Hauge, a one-year member of the UAHA board of directors who presided over (and at times mediated) the often rancorous annual meeting. "We need members, and we encourage them to participate."

Hauge (who, by the way, was commended by several people for his impartiality) says the certification process is simply a formality to be sure that new members are, in fact, homeowners living in the University area. He points out that the UAHA, like any private, non-profit corporation, has a provision in its by-laws requiring those who vote to be "members of record."

"People need to understand that in the past there never was a problem," says Hauge. "We had trouble finding people who wanted to serve on the board. It's hard enough to sustain these things."

Larry Howell, a new member of the UAHA (though a long-time resident of the University area), says he decided to attend the meeting after getting fed up not only with the board's stance on the Freddy's case, but other issues as well. Howell argues that the board violated its own rules by holding its annual meeting in May and not April, as the by-laws require.

Howell goes on to criticize the board for trying to maintain a firm grip on its own power by self-selecting its own replacements, calling it "almost Machiavellian." Suggesting that the UAHA may also be in debt, he raised questions as to the board's competence.

In response, UAHA board member Roberta Manis says that the annual meeting was postponed this year so that it would not conflict with the newly formed Neighborhood Council, which draws many of the same participants. Furthermore, she says that any rumors of UAHA financial difficulties or improprieties are simply "not true."

One long-time member of the UAHA, who asked not to be identified, says she thought the board was acting undemocratically, the rights of the new members were being railroaded, and that "I'll never go to another [UAHA] meeting again."

"What they've attempted to do is put themselves out as representing 250 University area residents. I don't think they do anymore," says Huff. "And any claim to that is simply a lie."

"We don't represent the University area homeowners," says Hauge. "We represent the University Areas Homeowners Association. It's a very important distinction."

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