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Today the Holter Museum of Art is a fixture in the Helena community. But 25 years ago it started with an abundance of hard work by local artists and more than a little support from citizens interested in having a unique place to celebrate contemporary art.

This year the Holter Museum of Art celebrates its 25th anniversary and through many changes and im-provements it has continued strong in its mission to fuel “artistic creativity and imagination in Montana through exceptional contemporary art exhibitions, collections and educational programming.”

Since the Holter opened its doors in 1987, other good ideas, businesses and organizations have started and ended in Helena. But the uniqueness of the Holter and its focus on community and education have kept it vibrant, dynamic and thriving.

Karen Bohlinger recently completed about a year as interim executive director of the Holter and points to community support as the museum’s foundation.

“I think that this community in particular really values all the arts,” Bohlinger said.

The Holter got its start when a group of local artists came together and decided to build a visual arts museum. The project was organized by the Helena Arts Council, who raised and borrowed money to buy the old Montana Powder & Equipment building in 1986.

Early exhibits included famed black-and-white photographer Ansel Adams and pieces from the ab-stract expressionist Poindexter Collection.

A year after it opened, the Holter had raised enough money to hire their first executive director. Over time exhibits have continued to be cutting edge and dynamic – from Tibetan Monks, to West African ceramic artists, the Holter and its directors have continued to seek out some of the finest contemporary artists and provide a wide range of education for children and adults.

And really this is the success of the Holter Museum of the Art – it is not only a place to see great art exhibits, but it is also a place to take the entire family. They frequently have classes for small children as well as adults and last year more than 7,000 local students came through the museum. Every third grader in Helena tours the Holter and participates in art instruction. For many children in town, the Holter is the only exposure they have to contemporary art, Bohlinger said.

The Holter has demonstrated time and again the treasured place art has to the residents of Helena. It may have been Helena’s artist community who worked diligently to get the Holter off the ground 25 years ago, but now the Holter has become an expression of more than just artists. It is an institution supported and celebrated across the community.

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And the success of the Holter wouldn’t have been possible without generous financial and in-kind support from businesses around the Helena, who have donated money for exhibits, programs and capi-tal improvements.

And the changes continue at the Holter. Recently the board of directors hired new executive director Caleb Fey and we welcome him to the Helena community and are excited to see what new ideas he has in store for our museum.

We also say thank you to all the people who have dedicated so much of their time over the years to the Holter Museum of Art. You’re dedication has created an institution the artist in all of us can be very proud of.

Also, look in this week’s Your Time for a feature on the Holter and a look at its history.

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