If you build it, the idea is that they will come. But if you don’t, they will certainly leave. That’s exactly what happened last weekend, when more than a handful of “they”—meaning us—left town on Friday and Saturday nights to attend events at performing arts centers in other parts of the state.
On Friday, the Hamilton PAC hosted another in its long line of compelling cultural offerings when Huun Huur Tu, a Tuvan throat-singing ensemble from southern Siberia, performed for the modest price of $12.50 per ticket. On Saturday, the Myrna Loy Center in Helena hosted the nation’s leading hip-hop dance company, Rennie Harris Puremovement—a show so popular that the $20 tickets sold out, prompting organizers to move the event to a larger auditorium to meet demand. Both of these shows would have been perfect for the multiculturally-conscious, superiorly enlightened artistic community of Missoula, save for one thing—there’s no performing arts center here to host them.
“Exactly!,” says Jim Valeo, secretary of the Missoula Community Performing Arts Center (MCPAC) committee, the group working to bring such a center to Missoula. “You’ve got to think outside the box as far as entertainment and what it is. There’s a lot of stuff in Missoula that could use [the proposed PAC facility], but there’s also a lot of things from around the world that we’re missing.”
Rennie Harris and Tuvan throat singers are just two examples. Valeo has another: he recently saw the Peking Acrobats perform in a sold-out, 1,100-seat PAC in Colorado for $30 a pop. “I think that would definitely fly in Missoula.”
Don’t get us wrong—there are plenty of wonderful artistic offerings in the Garden City, but cultural and artistic diversity aren’t among their most noticeable attributes. The University, either through UM Productions or various organizations at the UC, carries the flag for touring acts, but beyond concerts those tend to be exclusively commercial, mainstream, expensive affairs. (Exhibit A: Tap Dogs comes to town this week at $47.50 a seat.)
“Frankly, we haven’t had one bit of negativity about the idea—everyone sees the value in building the facility,” says Valeo. “The only issue is raising money.”
Currently, MCPAC is in “the quiet phase” of fundraising—the early stages of a large capital campaign that’s focused on collecting 50 to 60 percent of costs in private donations before soliciting public support. The final goal: $50 million. Valeo is optimistic and claims the program is on schedule, with Amy Rue, the executive director hired at the end of last year, working full-time on fundraising efforts.
MCPAC already brought in a consulting firm to assess the proper size for the facility (approximately 1,500 seats) and to confirm there is enough demand to keep the facility busy (there is). Then again, we could’ve told you the second part. You know, before we had to drive to Helena and Hamilton.