Support growing for new civic art space 

The Warehouse Mall has seen a lot of changes in the past 30 years, from the bohemian home of such Missoula icons as artist Dirk Lee, to the gentrified host of trendy businesses to a failed Italian restaurant.

The space may soon become a new civic art center, if frame shop owner Patty Corbett can secure federal funding.

Currently, a mix of businesses occupy the mall. There’s a music studio, a counselor’s office, a hair salon, an office for Habitat for Humanity, and others. A few rooms are still occupied by artists, but currently the mall is about one-third vacant.

Portions of the two-story brick building—which stands at the intersection of Alder Street, Toole Avenue and a railroad spur—date back to 1891 when the Warehouse Mall was a warehouse for the Missoula Mercantile, now the Bon Marche.

With the support of U.S. senators Conrad Burns (R–Mont.) and Max Baucus (D–Mont.) as well as other local politicians, Corbett hopes to keep the building in the business of art via her organization, the Missoula Creative Arts Center.

“Maybe we can unite the arts in this town, pull it all together and have studios for artists where people can come by and watch them,” Corbett says. “That’s what’s fun, when you can see who made it, and how it was made.”

Prospects for a federal package to purchase and renovate the structure are dwindling this year. Nevertheless, Corbett has received assurances from Burns and Baucus that they will back the project again for next year’s budget, and from the building’s owner that he will consider an offer to sell whenever it is extended.

Corbett plans to hold a kickoff celebration for the art center on Saturday, Sept. 28. Artists and performers who wish to participate need to contact her before Sept. 15.

Corbett’s hopes to reclaim the artistic spirit that prevailed in the building two decades while still retaining some of the commercial aspects of more recent times. She envisions dual functions for the building, a for-profit side of commercial businesses and studio rentals, and a nonprofit side of workshops and performance space.

Corbett has received help from Charlie Brown, an art broker who works with veterans at the Missoula Job Service and an experienced lobbyist.

“In Montana, young artists have a terrible time finding recognition, unless you’re [Russell] Chatham and you live in Livingston and Peter Fonda comes in to buy your work,” Brown says.

Brown notes that architects and contractors have been enlisted but that the plans are not yet finished. This week, representatives of Burns and Baucus could not confirm details of the funding.

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