Arts brings the nonprofit exploration experience | Catch My Job


Explore the Arts Executive Director Barbara Lees has transformed her Montana Bliss Gallery on West Main Street in Hamilton into a beautiful artistic space with workspaces, showcase galleries and encouragement for an entire community of emerging artists.

“It grew organically,” Lees said. “I didn’t have a big picture of ‘this is what I want’. After my long business career, I found a new passion which was sculpting concrete faces. I made a change and opened Montana Bliss Gallery while I had another business. I knew retirement was coming.”

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In May 2017, she opened Montana Bliss Studio on Main Street.

“I never missed a day of work, I just went from one to the next,” Lees said. “I had galleries and studios. In 2018 I went to the ‘Arts Transform Communities’ conference at the University of Montana in Phyllis Washington.

Lees said she felt inspired and empowered to bring art to the Bitterroot Valley in a bigger way. He teamed up with Jean Drescher, a retired art educator who wanted to be involved in art.

As more spaces opened up in buildings at Seventh and Main Streets, Lees purchased them and added more art opportunities in the form of workshops, classroom spaces, and studio spaces. He did all the behind-the-scenes work on scheduling, advertising and registration for the workshops.

“That’s when it really took off,” Liss said. “Artists show up and give a class – that was the point. I was happy to do this because of my business background, it came easily to me. Adding more space means it’s open, we can offer two workshops at the same time, and the new area where we read poetry during the Culture Crawl.”

The nonprofit Explore the Arts offers private classes, writers’ workshops, free family art days, open painters’ studios and a full slate of exciting workshops.

“The camaraderie of artists working together and inspiring each other is amazing,” says Lees.

Liss and Driescher recently joined the Montana Art Gallery Directors Association.

“It was amazing to be around these industry professionals,” Lees said. “We’re not booking shows that big galleries might book. There are shows of all sizes. We are booking a ‘Historic Bridge in Montana’.

The photography show showcases images of historic bridges, powerhouses and missile sites across the state.

“It’s great to bring these types of things to our small community,” Lees said. “We look forward to working with Open Air. They put artists in residence so we can bring more skills and opportunities. There are more opportunities as a non-profit.”

Lees said the mainstay of all the presentations and workshops is the funding that comes through the sale of items at the gallery. He is not currently looking for grant funding because the money comes with obligations. He said he works through another nonprofit organization for youth education but enjoys the freedom of mobility.

“It helped us understand where we needed to be,” he said. “To me, organic growth is the way I’ve always done things. If you set a big vision and you’re struggling to achieve it, it can be frustrating. But if you grow and add to it, it’s very rewarding and people appreciate it. does.”

On the second Saturday of each month, Explore the Arts participates in the Culture Crawl and hosts poetry readings, live music and other experiences and presentations from 11 a.m. to noon. The first Tuesday of each month, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., is a Writer’s Circle to support writers in their efforts to write creative stories.

Lees is known as a concrete face sculptor who has digitized some of his paintings and recreated them on silk and collage. She wrote a book on healing and resilience. He journaled the steps, and efforts involved in restoring a large concrete face that had crashed and shattered.

An unexpected event made this possible.

“During 2020 I was reviewing products,” Lees said. “One concrete product, Paltia, was full of fiber and I decided it wasn’t for me.”

He explained that concreting is a subtractive process where you drill the spaces for eyes and other additions, whereas plastering is an additive process.

“When you mix it, those fibers are woven together like felting,” Lees said. “You add it slowly, it’s a completely different process. But Paltia allowed me to rebuild the broken piece. A friend asked me to donate the piece to a girl with a difficult life struggle and I want her to rebuild her life.”

Lees wrote the book with her frustrations, support system and her optimism and path to completion.

“The healing was slow, but I learned,” she said. “I had to leave some things behind and couldn’t use all the parts. I had to heal inside first. Sculptures will be different and that’s okay. It took me longer to repair than to build the first time.”

Liz’s studio has the book on Etsy and has donated copies to as many mentors as she can find.

“Those who hear the story think of someone who is going through some struggle”. “You’re looking at it in a completely different context. It’s more about whether it makes sense to anyone.”

Donations for youth arts workshops and family workshop days are kindly accepted The Rotary Club of Hamilton is donating $1,000 to the education program for scholarships.

For more information on galleries, workshops and programs visit, or call 406-381-2488, email [email protected], or visit 701 Main and 101 South 7th in Hamilton


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