Prairie Lights: After ArtWalk, dreams of things to come

It’s a good thing I’m not pretending to be a professional art critic, or even a thorough chronicler.

Mrs. Kemmick and I were already planning to take in the ArtWalk in downtown Billings on Friday night, and at the last minute she suggested I take photos at as many venues as possible.


Ed Kemmick

Then, following my usual method—by which I mean my non-method—we ran out the door without even consulting an ArtWalk guide, though we did have five or six places we knew we wanted to take in.

It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I finally looked at a guide to the ArtWalk, which was when I found out that there were 34 exhibits, if my math was correct, at downtown galleries, shops and other venues.

And then I counted how many of them I got to. Twelve! And this was after nearly 3½ hours of what felt like a forced march. After some reflection, it dawned on me that in the past, left to my own devices, I often made it to no more than four or five exhibits.

If anyone claims to have visited all 34 venues, I’d like to hear from that person. To hit all 34, you couldn’t possibly look at more than a work or two at each stop, you wouldn’t dare enter into a single conversation and if you gulped any wine or ate any crackers and cheese, it would had to have been on the fly, between stops.

What I did see amazed me. So much good art in this city of 100,000 people, so many talented musicians, so many kinds of cheese!

It also struck me that one of the best things about the ArtWalk is that you get a chance to see how many really fine old buildings and interior spaces there still are downtown. We don’t have the grand, Gilded Age buildings you see in Butte and Helena, but there are dozens of interior spaces with beautiful wooden floors, pressed-tin ceilings and oak woodwork.

Two of my favorite spaces were in the old Carlin Hotel building on Montana Avenue. Jason Jam and Connie Dillon were showing their works in adjoining galleries that used to be hotel rooms, spaces that put me in mind of Brooklyn or Chicago. The Toucan Gallery, also on Montana Avenue, is likewise a spectacular space, as striking as any of the art on sale there.

Another highlight: At Better To Gather, part of the Billings Depot complex, Michelle Dyk turned people into surreal works of art, using paint, moss, algae and other natural materials to transform them into walking trees and woodland creatures.

“I don’t ever want to paint on canvas again,” she said.

And here’s a thought. Now that arts and culture magazine Noise & Color is no more, there is a gap to be filled in Billings.

I would suggest that writers, artists and other creative people looking for an outlet take a close look at BAM, the Butte Arts Monthly. I recently came across the September issue of BAM, which apparently comes out (despite the title) six times a year, in conjunction with Butte’s own Uptown Art Walks.

The BAM is a tabloid-size newsprint publication, apparently produced entirely by volunteers with a distribution of 3,000 copies. The issue I saw had interviews with artists, poetry, arts listings, essays, drawings, photographs and fiction.

My favorite was a two-page spread with horoscopes, kind of. For each sign of the Zodiac, an unnamed contributor or contributors briefly summarized a classic movie—including “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Citizen Kane”—then used lessons from each movie to give people born under that sign life guidance.


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Emily Davidson and Louis Habeck both had art on display at the Good Earth Market. Here’s Habeck in front of Davidson’s “Oh Miel.”

Here’s the wisdom tacked onto the description of “Apocalypse Now”: “This month I advise you embrace your inner warrior, your innate tenacity, and your vision for something larger than life. But always remember to keep your heart first and center. Avoid the darkness of unexamined impulses and the capacity to destroy rather than create.”

A contributor by the name of Adrian Kien had a fascinating piece in which he described his flight from civilization to the tranquility of the Pintler Mountains. He talked about Japanese poems called renga, then “collaborated” with the mountain he was on to produce renga, which were included in the article.

His writing was accompanied by beautiful photographs and illustrated excerpts from the notebook he took with him into the hills.

There is more, much more, but my point is this: If Butte, with a population barely a third that of Billings’, can produce such a fine publication, surely the same can be done here, whether as a profit or nonprofit.

Better yet, learn more about The Ration Magazine, the online publication with plans to pick up where Noise & Color left off. Contribute, collaborate, create. Let all the many people who make the ArtWalk so good be your inspiration.

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