In a windowless two-room office on the second floor of the First Interstate Bank building, Tom Benson, the new Executive Director of the Missoula Cultural Council (MCC), is just familiarizing himself with his new office and his new job.
“I’m still trying to figure out everything on the computer,” he jokes, apologizing for what seems an inconsequential “mess” in his office.
Benson, a well-spoken man with thin, gold-rimmed eyeglasses, began his new position on June 1, replacing long-time Cultural Council Director Mark Martin. Benson, an accomplished singer and musician and former school teacher in California, had previously been the executive director of First Night Missoula, a position he held for the last seven years (and continues until a replacement is found). “I feel comfortable in this position coming from First Night,” he says. “First Night is, in a way, a one-event microcosm of what the Cultural Council represents.”
Michael Marsolek, president of MCC, says that Benson was one of 20 candidates the Council considered for the position. “He has the perfect mix of good organizational skills and a knowledge of the arts community,” Marsolek says, “plus he has a real personal appreciation for arts and culture, which is certainly part of the mandate in the Missoula Cultural Council.”
The MCC, regarded as the “cultural arm” of Missoula city government, has been in existence since 1991, when it was created as a result of a study conducted by the city called, “The Fabric of Missoula.” The study found that Missoula, although having a vibrant arts and cultural community, did not have an organization that spoke for, or advocated for, art culture itself.
Benson says he wants to help link businesses and the arts in Missoula through the Business Committee for the Arts, a national organization of which the MCC is a member. “A good thriving culture is good for business,” he says. “Art is good for business and business is good for art. They are working towards the same goal, but sometimes they don’t know it.”