Art lovers’ lament 

It’s important for an artist to build suspense and intrigue before unveiling a new piece of work—you know, to help increase buzz and drive demand—and the Missoula Art Museum, albeit not by choice, is taking the same strategy to heart. Executive Director Laura Millin recently announced that MAM’s elegantly expanded and renovated downtown home at the corner of North Pattee and Pine streets, which has been under construction since January 2004, will not be opening as planned this June due to unforeseen construction delays. Instead, the grand opening of the $4.5 million institution is now being planned for September.

“When no one could guarantee a completion date, it came to a point where I had to say ‘uncle,’ explains Millin, who wanted to avoid opening in late summer when it would be harder to drum up local excitement.

The delay results in an unfortunate gap for local art watchers. Since construction began, MAM has hosted exhibits at its Temporary Contemporary gallery located inside the Florence Building, but when the current exhibit there comes down in May there are no plans to replace it. The current exhibit, Kindred Spirits, has been up since mid-February, meaning that come September MAM will have offered just one exhibit in seven months, and nothing at all during the busy tourist season.

“We’re studying that problem,” says Millin of how to fill the Temporary Contemporary’s walls for three months this summer. In the interim the space will be used for MAM’s educational classes, and Millin suggests the walls may be adorned with children’s art. She adds: “The short answer is we probably will not do a lot.”

The timeout, while potentially frustrating to visitors and art-loving locals, provides a vital respite for MAM staff. The relaxed schedule allows extra time to move the museum’s permanent collection and business offices, and to address any lingering issues with the new building; Millin predicts it will take at least a month just to level the heating and cooling systems in the new space.

“We need the time to turn our attentions to the many, many tasks at hand,” says Millin.

Which leaves art lovers temporarily at a loss, but eagerly anticipating the chance to turn their attention back to MAM in September.

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