Friday, September 23, 2011

What it takes to keep Missoula's Festival of the Dead alive

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Many locals have their own favorite story about the annual parade and performance celebrating Missoula's version of Día de los Muertos. Tarn Ream of Unity Dance and Drum has been involved with the event since it started 19 years ago, and rattles off a number of anecdotes that track its history — her debut performance, when artists were paid for the participation; the year a bunch of Charlie B's regulars marched along the route to honor author Jim Crumley; and the recent years when a small group of volunteers scrambled to keep the Higgins Avenue procession from disappearing altogether.

That last part often gets overlooked. Unlike other beloved Missoula festivals that are run by nonprofits, boards of directors or otherwise invested groups, Missoula's Festival of the Dead happens every year due to the planning, fundraising and promotion of a few loosely organized, selfless individuals. At first, it was run by local artists Bev Glueckert and Mike deMeng. Then Kay Grissom-Kiely took over for years, before Rachel Winick and then Julia LaTray jumped in to help keep things running. The event almost didn't happen in 2006, but was saved at the 11th hour. City Council had to step in to make sure 2007's parade came together. And so on.

That's how it's been the last couple years, with a rotating cast of locals hustling to catch each spinning plate — or, in this case, twirling fire stick — before it crashes to the ground.

This year, the trio of Ream, Selvedge Studio's Leah Morrow, and Very Special Arts' Alayne Dolson has emerged to help steady the operation. All have a long history with the festival — Morrow was among those who rescued it in 2007; VSA has sponsored it forever — and are sacrificing their own time to raise the funds and find volunteers.

Here's where you could help. The Festival of the Dead operates on a budget of about $6,000 to cover the parade permit, barricades, insurance, promotional materials, and other operational costs. That money comes directly from local businesses and individual donations. If you'd like to help keep the Festival of the Dead alive, check out the event's new Facebook page or contact Ream directly at 546-0858.

"This has always been a community-driven event," says Ream, "and we're trying to get out ahead this year to make sure it's a part of the community for years to come."

The 2011 Festival of the Dead is scheduled for Nov. 2 with the usual pre-parade performance at 6 p.m. at Circle Square, and the parade beginning at 7.

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