Meet with the MAC: Interview with Percent-for-Art Pgm. Director at the Montana Arts Council, Kim Baraby Hurtle

Posted on: April 24, 2014 by Ella Watson
Jean Albus Bridger, MT 59014, US 2013 Winner of Montana Arts Council – Artist Innovation Award – Visual Arts.

Jean Albus
Bridger, MT 59014, US
2013 Winner of Montana Arts Council – Artist Innovation Award – Visual Arts.

What is the Montana Arts Council or MAC?
The Montana Arts Council is the agency of state government established to develop the creative potential of all Montanans, advance education, spur economic vibrancy and revitalize communities through involvement in the arts. Our Vision statement offers this: Montana will be known far and wide as “The Land of Creativity,” where the arts are essential to the creativity, imagination and entrepreneurship that make Big Sky Country the very best place on earth to live, learn, work and play.

At the Montana Arts Council, we create 5-year Strategic Plans to work with educators, artists of all mediums, arts organizations, and offer constituents a variety of services, grant monies, and technical assistance. Check out our website to learn more about us. . We serve rural and urban communities, and we do this with tight federal, state funding and a few private dollars. That is a challenge. Our dollars are the result of the public’s trust in our spending the dollars wisely and being able to show a return on their investment. At our website, read about our offerings for individual artists at:

Who are you and what is your responsibility at MAC?
Kim Baraby Hurtle is the Percent-for-Art Program Director and has worked for the Montana Arts Council for 12 years. She facilitates public art projects for new and renovated state buildings and also offers technical assistance to artists, writers and performing artists through her two e-news publications.
My main focus, at MAC, is to provide technical assistance to artists, which I do on an individual basis, and through our newspaper, State of the Arts. We now offer two e-newsletters, where I can put calls for artists and juicy ideas in my “Food for Thought” column. You can sign up for our print or online version of State of the Arts or any of our four e-newsletters at:

My work at MAC runs the gamut of directing an artist to copyright law, or how they should approach a gallery for a solo or group exhibition. I am also now one of the key staff persons working towards an Art in Healthcare program. As we learn that our constituents have new or differing needs, we try to respond to those needs. Art heals. Art allows the aging brain to flourish. Art engages us creatively and teaches us problem-solving, which leads to innovation, which brings about scientific advancements, social change, economic growth, more venues for the arts, which in turn offers us beauty, and challenges our beliefs and ideas and brings our communities together.

What services can MAC offer Contemporary and Abstract artists in Montana?
MAC offers services to all artists regardless of their genre. In many ways the challenges for all artists are the same. Where we can’t feature every showing of every artist or the workshops they teach in our newspaper, yet we welcome ideas for sharing art-related information with others. Our work reaches across the nation through our newspaper and e-news, research, and programs.

MAC offers several grants to help. Check out our Strategic Investment grants, and the Artist Innovation Award along with the Cultural & Aesthetic Trust grants for some ideas. See our home page, check out the options to view our website galleries, our Blog and Facebook page. We feature Montana artists who have benefited from our programming.

Some readers might want to check out MAC’s Montana Artrepreneur Program, MAP for short, to see what we’ve done for a Montana artists and artisans. The application period is open at: Don’t let the folk life and business terms throw you, this more like the equivalency of a Master’s degree in marketing regardless of your genre or medium.

MAGDA, the Montana Art Gallery Directors Association is another association artists might want to check-out. They offer member services and alliances for exhibiting shows with a block-booking model that shares the expenses. In short, this means that if a member gallery shows an artist’s work, the exhibition could go on the road to other institutions in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota.

Can you identify any common threads among Modern Montana artists?
For certain, Montanans are rugged individualists. There is no common theme, or even collective consciousness of contemporary or modern artists. Many of us are so isolated that we don’t often get to share our artwork with the general public, with other artists, or poets and writers for that wonderful commune of ideas, theories and mold-breaking. Even with these challenges, Modern art is alive and well in Montana and has been for over a century.

If there were common threads between us, I might offer the landscape as the first one. Each of us is immediately tied to the beauty and harshness of Montana, of the industriousness of its people and how they make their living and how we are truthfully a frontier state by definition of area mass and population density. Both urban and rural towns have underserved populations. Having access to the arts is our concern at MAC.

As artists, whether it is the seasons that inspire us or how difficult it is to find an art material we want to use, this 4th largest state has its joys and concerns. We don’t like being told how to do something, or what to think, but we will also drive five hours in the middle of the night to testify in front of a Legislative assembly on the importance of the arts in Montana, or put a car on a wagon, hitch up the horses and drive a woman in labor to a waiting snowplow that will escort the family to the nearest hospital. We often rely on whatever methods of communication we can tap into in order to find one another.

Soar Richard Swanson Helena artist Percent-for Art Program Helena College [UM-Helena branch]  2007 installation for their renovation of the main campus.

Richard Swanson
Helena artist
Percent-for Art Program
Helena College [UM-Helena branch] 2007 installation for their renovation of the main campus.

Where might artists interested in contemporary art or the avante garde find resources or community in Montana?
The largest collections of modern art are in the permanent collections, and on view at the Yellowstone Museum in Billings, the Missoula Art Museum in Missoula, and the Holter Museum in Helena. Montana State University and the University of Montana, along with their other campuses each have modern collections. For example, did you realize that the Northcutt Steele Gallery at MSU- Billings has an Andy Warhol collection or that Montana Museum of Arts and Culture on the UM-Missoula campus has Picasso, Miro, and Autio among other European and Montanan modernists in their permanent collection? Medium-sized and smaller museums across the state offer additional venues and permanent collections for a variety of genres. One can learn more about these collections and exhibits through the Museum’s Association of Montana. /

For another great listing of arts events, festivals, museums, and galleries see the periodical: Montana Cultural Treasures guide, which is an annual publication MAC partners with for its production and statewide distribution. Learning what these institutions own, exhibit and how they obtained the work will offer some information about collecting in Montana. Many of these collections came from private individuals. Going to and participating in fundraising for the arts will give you an opportunity to meet collectors , peers and gallery owners.

The Internet has been an important tool, as are newspapers and periodicals such as the Lively Times, our own State of the Arts, the Whitefish Review, and the Missoula Independent, and Theory, which are only a few among the dozens published in Montana. One of the most exciting ideas I’ve seen in some time, are the number of communities who are turning vacant storefronts into venues and studios and will sometimes utilize the guild idea to manage them. Building an audience and patron’s list is complicated and I think sometimes that only the most rugged artists and arts organizations among us will survive the challenge. MAC is a collector of survival stories, we have plenty to share.

Do you have any advice for emerging or middle career artists?
Sales drive financial success, which is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around when the public usually needs a few decades to appreciate work created outside of the “box.” Even traditions in abstract genres become established and then are constantly tested. In Montana, we know what sells more often. The necessary components for financial success for artists in Montana and work in non-traditional styles begins with the peer group and a well-appointed portfolio, the website, the guild model, museum exhibitions, and the gallery representation locally, regionally and at this point, internationally.

My best advice to artists: Stop waiting for the world to come to your door. Genius and talent, and being prolific are not enough. The most well-known artists are capable business people with good marketing skills. Not letting your ego get in the way of your financial success, and also not allowing your financial success get in the way of your creative pathway is critical. Locating your next idea, or challenge for the next artistic problem and resolution, is the key. Balancing this with exposure and sales is a more likely pathway to success with it all. Art after all is, at its most basic level, a form of communication. Without an audience, the work may or may not suffer, but those creating it certainly do.

Emerging artists often find that their first sales are with private collectors. Don’t dismiss the small or early sale in your career. It is critical to maintain good records of who owns your work, along with the pertinent facts about the work [size, price, date, title, medium, methods, conservation, etc.] A successful artist knows his or her patrons and maintains some level of contact about new work and assistance with maintenance and repair issues.

Marketing is a serious commitment. If an artist wants to step outside of the studio, then it means looking at your finished work as a business and getting out of the way of your studio self; if you need to hire someone else to help you with those challenges, then do it. If you need a colleague to help you write about what it is that you do, then ask them. Use the third person voice, it is always more professional and helps with that one-step removed from the studio personality that is necessary.

Leave the studio and learn what is being shown in museums with permanent collections of modern art, learn which galleries represent those artists. Learn about online collectives and galleries outside and inside of Montana that host art.

Nor should you be afraid to try something new. Many of my constituents are finding that a Facebook or other social media presence, where they can offer the patrons a variety of prices on smaller works of art is, in turn, sustaining the production of larger works. Others are entering the public art arena, where online submissions help to level the playing field. Online submissions with digital images are a place where artists can cast a wider net and worry about what proposals to accept later. A good digital image can be sent out simultaneously to art calls across the country opening your potential marketplaces to include museums, galleries, government, and healthcare venues.

Learn more about the MAC on their website .



Posted on: April 24, 2014 by Ella Watson