A $500,000 grant will provide a culinary arts program, job training and community events over the next three years in East Helena. 

East Helena Mayor Jamie Schell on Tuesday announced the grant from ArtPlace America, an organization that aims to put arts and culture at the center of community planning. The grant is intended to help East Helena continue transitioning from an industry-dominated town since the ASARCO Smelter closed in 2001.

The project, called the East Helena Food and Culture Hub, will invite the entire East Helena community to participate in a culinary program hosted in the East Helena schools. It will also seek to train employees, particularly in the food industry, with a goal of bringing new food-related businesses to town. Local artists will be invited to join in community planning conversations, and there will be events to gather storytellers, culinary artists and musicians.

Schell said East Helena held community picnics for decades when the ASARCO Smelter was around. He said he hopes the Food and Culture Hub will bring back East Helena’s tradition of community feasts.

“It has an identity to celebrate,” he said.

The Food and Culture Hub will mostly be influenced by community feedback, but leaders suggested possible outcomes such as new businesses, a summer music festival with storytelling or a community feast at JFK Park.

The East Helena Food and Culture Hub will be supervised by five partners in addition to the city. The school district's superintendent Ron Whitmoyer will provide kitchen space for culinary training and events. Moe Wosepka of the Helena Community Offender Re-Entry Program will advocate for the underserved to make sure there are opportunities for everyone to participate in the project. Krys Holmes of the Myrna Loy Center will administer the grant and hire local artists. Betsy Burns with the Environmental Protection Agency will continue the smelter remediation effort started in 1984 to redevelop the town.

The final partner is Shalon Hastings, owner of the combined Hub Coffee and Taco Del Sol location that closed in East Helena last year. Hastings closed her East Helena location after staff turnover made it impossible to make ends meet. Hastings couldn’t attend on Tuesday because she was covering for an employee who couldn’t make a shift. Hastings will provide culinary and job training to provide food-related businesses with a reliable workforce.

Holmes said ArtPlace America was charmed by East Helena this summer.

“They saw this little town in the shadow of the slag pile re-envisioning its future,” she said. “It’s an incredibly difficult challenge for a town to transform from an industrial town.”

East Helena will announce a community meeting to kick off citizen planning in early 2018.