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Holter Museum of Art: The 'W' is open for art and more

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DJ On!x New Year_s Eve.jpg

DJ On!x performs at the E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center on New Year's Eve.

OK, so it’s not really OFFICIAL yet.

But, The “W” is open for business at the Holter Museum of Art, 12 E. Lawrence St.

Admittedly, some furniture and equipment will be trickling in over the coming months, but it’s already got its doors open and hosting events.

E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center-cover

The E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center inside the Holter Museum of Art is open for business.

In fact, this Friday folks can head on down to The “W” and enjoy a Holter After Hours program – Cowboy Bob & Gypsy Dust Draw Down at 6:30 p.m.

Enjoy drinks with friends while you draw and listen to live cowboy jazz.

Bring your own art supplies or purchase art packs at the Holter. All skill levels are welcome.

The “W” official grand opening will be an all-day celebration on Saturday, Feb. 26, featuring arts activities, raffles, live entertainment, food and beverages – with more details coming soon.

Perhaps some folks may be wondering, just what is The “W”?

Last March, the Holter announced it was launching the E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center, quickly dubbed The “W.”

The E.L Wiegand Foundation of Reno, Nevada, approved a $413,000 grant in October 2020 to cover construction and technology costs for the new space that repurposes the old Sherman and Milliken Gallery spaces.

The “groundbreaking” was July 21, 2021, and construction was completed on schedule at the end of November.

The large, new multi-use educational space is airy, bright and colorful.

The walls and ceiling in one corner seem splashed with brilliant colors from giant cans of paint.

Along one wall are brightly colored cubbies for children (of all ages) to climb into and relax.

E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center

The E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center inside the Holter Museum of Art.

Across the front of the room is a raised stage.

And along the outside walls, newly revealed glass windows let sunlight pour in.

Moving into the space, starting last week, were bean bag chairs, lounge chairs, a big interactive screen and flat screen TVs.

Also arriving are cameras that can also shoot video, iPads and new Apple computers, art supply cabinets and couches.

“It’s exciting to see it all finally coming in,” said Chris Riccardo.

“It’s designed with every age group in mind,” making the space both kid- and adult-friendly.

“Everything’s moves, so a teacher can set it up any way they want.”

Riccardo believes that what the community will need as it comes out of the COVID pandemic is “a place to come and heal and to do it with art.”

“We want the Holter to be more than a museum,” to include a lot of exciting different kinds of programming to engage the community.

He wants the programming to be so varied that it draws in people who’ve never been to an art museum, such as a recent Cow Tipping Comedy show.

Cow Tipping Comedy Night

Cow Tipping Comedy performing recently at the E.L. Wiegand Creativity Center.

He’s hoping that once people have visited and also seen the exhibits, they’ll want to keep coming back.

“Over the past years, we’ve done a really good job of building programs out in the community, like the Healing Arts program at St. Pete’s,” he said.

“But now we want to get people excited to come inside the Holter. We see this space as a place to come and grab some art supplies, or get involved in a figure drawing class, or if you are an artist and want to rent space to do a workshop, or a place for a band or musician to rehearse and perform.

“That’s the idea – we’re here for you.”

The upcoming event with Cowboy Bob is a great opportunity to check out The “W.”

Cowboy Bob & Gypsy Dust

Cowboy Bob & Gypsy Dust Draw Down is Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Enjoy drinks with friends while you draw and listen to live cowboy jazz.

“We’re encouraging people to come in and create art while music is playing,” said Riccardo.

“Instead of just sitting and listening, you’re participating and painting – those are the kind of unique, collaborative, fun activities,” the Holter will offer.

The new space in the adjoining Millikin Gallery will be a community gallery space, particularly for young, up-and-coming artists to show their work and gain skills in how to exhibit their art.

The “W” can also be rented for special events. 

“We have the ability to have a 100-plus person event, with all in-house dishes, art supply cabinets, work tables, chairs and technology as far as video cameras, computers and iPads.”

The “W” will also offer hands-on activities and experiences directly related to current exhibits and art displays.

Riccardo also sees The “W” will be a place businesses or nonprofits can bring staff for some much-needed creative relaxation and professional development to boost morale.

And the space is available for community meetings and discussions on important issues facing Helena, such as mental health and homelessness.

Jules Schoebel, events director and store manager, plans to stage Open Mics on First Fridays of each month, hosting musicians, poets, artists and art swaps.

Another exciting idea under discussion is offering a community recording studio that would be open for artists to rent out and be made available for recording podcasts.

While The “W” is up and running, fundraising continues for staffing and expanded programming. So far, the Holter has raised nearly $664,000 of its $1.25 million goal, or about 53 percent, according to the Holter website.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Riccardo, “but I’m excited to see the income already coming in. We’re going to concentrate on a marketing campaign in January and February. It’s doing what we hoped. It’s a unique space for sure.

“For me, this is something I’ve talked about since I got here. Being a small contemporary art museum in a small town can be a struggle.

“I just think it’s a unique, one-of-a-kind meeting place.”

For more information and rental costs, visit https://holtermuseum.org/e-l-wiegand-creativity-center or call 406-442-6400.

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