One of the most magical times of the year at the ZACC has arrived! The Missoula Monster Project started in 2014 when Asa Smetanka, then age 9, came into my office and enthusiastically showed me his spiral notebook full of sketches of hundreds of monsters along with their special attributes and features. Asa’s dad, Andy, had a studio at the ZACC at the time so Asa hung around a lot and was very familiar with our programming. “I want to do an art show in the ZACC gallery and show my monsters,” he proclaimed! And so we talked about how he might do that. Asa decided he would invite his adult artist friends to do their own renditions of his monsters and we scheduled a gallery show called “Facts About Made Up Monsters” in the ZACC Gallery for the First Friday in October. This show featured one child artist, Asa, and 14 adult artists including myself, Patricia, many Smetankas, Courtney Blazon, Theo Ellsworth, Josh Quick, Cindy Laundrie Marshall, and others.
The opening was delightful. The adult artists all agreed that it was one of the most enjoyable art calls they had ever submitted to, and Asa beamed as he walked around the gallery wearing a suit, giving speeches, and sipping apple juice out of a champagne glass. And we noticed a large population of people circulating our gallery and showing great interest in the art that we had never really seen much of at First Friday openings before – kids! Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this every year, we all agreed, and tried to envision how.
Around the same time the Missoula Community Arts Team (that I was a member of) launched SPARK! – which was and continues to be an initiative to bring more art into Missoula County Public Schools. Our team met with the new SPARK! Director, Chris Neely, and the MCPS Fine Arts Director, John Combs, and pitched to them the idea of every kindergartner in Missoula drawing a monster and matching them with an adult artist ... And that is when I learned that there were over 700 kindergartners in Missoula. Due to space constraints and practicality, we decided to do three schools per year, rotating each year.
Our first Missoula Monster Project in 2015 featured 206 kindergartners from Lewis and Clark, Russell, and Cold Springs schools. The most daunting part seemed like it was going to be finding 206 adult artists to match with each kindergartner. Needless to say, we had never had a show with over two hundred artists in it before! We weren’t even really sure we knew 200 plus artists. Luckily, we quickly learned that that wasn’t really going to be a problem. The response to the call was overwhelming, and we even had to turn some people away! Many adults signed-up who had never submitted to an art show before, surprising both themselves and us with their artistic talents. As the monsters poured in it felt like Christmas at the ZACC, and we were so enamored by them all that we didn’t even mind working late into the night hanging over 400 pieces of art, covering every inch of every wall of the old ZACC.
Now in year seven, and roughly 3,000 monsters later, a few things have changed but the heart of this project remains the same. In addition to being an incredible show that brings joy to all people, young and old, the Monster Project has become one of our biggest fundraisers of the year. All monster sales go to our art education programs for Missoula’s youth. SPARK! Is no longer directly involved but we are so grateful for the years working with them, and we continue our incredible partnership with the MCPS Fine Arts Department. We have gotten pretty good at managing all of the little beasts, but Monster Project week is still a big week at the ZACC. We spend many hours organizing, hanging, rescuing, and delighting in each and every monster. We are exhausted and elated and still enamored by this project, and we can’t wait to share it with you at the opening tomorrow and all month long at the ZACC.