Hamilton Performing Arts Series at critical crossroads

By Perry Backus • Reprinted with permission from The Ravalli Republic, Oct. 3, 2008


When it came time to offer support for the Hamilton Performing Arts Series, Jake and Mandy Barnings dug deeper than usual into their pocketbook this year.

The owners of Hamilton’s Barnings Chiropractic knew this would be a defining moment for one of the county’s most popular cultural venues.

Faced with challenging economic times and a change in its funding structure, there is no guarantee the series that’s brought Grammy-winning artists to the Bitterroot Valley will survive to see its sixth season.

“We knew that this was the critical year,” Mandy Barnings said. “We knew that this will be the year to decide if it stays or it goes away.”

This year marked the first that the performing arts series has operated without financial backing from the Hamilton School District.

When the school district decided last year to discontinue underwriting the series, Hamilton resident Jim Olson agreed that his company would offer to help as the series transitioned into a self-sustaining entity.

Since then, the small staff of the Hamilton Performing Arts Series has worked out of the Human Interactive Products (HIPinc) office in Hamilton to put together this year’s 12-program series and do the necessary fundraising. Monica Grable, the series’ executive director, said without Olson’s help, the series would not have had a fifth season.

“And the only way that the sixth series will happen is to make this year successful,” she said.

Funding for the series comes from three sources – ticket sales, individual memberships and sponsorships of different venues.

While ticket sales have continued to grow every year, Grable said it’s not enough to pay the bills for bringing the often internationally-known singers, dancers, acrobats and musicians to Hamilton.

“Everyone thinks that ticket sales are what pay for these programs, but that’s not the case,” she said. “While it certainly does help if we can fill the house every night in helping to make up the difference, we need to come close to reaching our goals in sponsorships and memberships to make this work.”

Both of those categories were lagging as the series prepared to for its second show of the season – the company of dancer-illusionists called MOMIX – on Saturday, Oct. 11.

The show was also one of the most expensive for the series to produce.

“We were required to bring in eight technical people to rig up the stage for the production,” Grable said. “That adds quite a bit to our costs.”

It’s all part of bringing entertainment that people would normally have to drive to a much larger metropolitan area to enjoy.


Edgar Meyer & Mike Marshall: Feb. 7

Steve Green, the series’ director of marketing and sales, said the word has been circulating around the state and beyond about the caliber of programming occurring in Hamilton.

“We are drawing people from a 250-mile radius to Hamilton,” Green said. “We are becoming a regional venue for the arts. That’s important for this community.”

Grable said the annual performing arts series has become an important event for many people living in the Bitterroot Valley.

“There are so many people who have supported this for so long in this valley,” Grable said. “For them, it’s one of the most important things about why they live here in the Bitterroot other than the beautiful scenery.”

The Barnings count themselves amongst the group.

“We feel it is a very important series for the valley,” said Mandy Barnings. “You would have to travel to Spokane or Seattle to see the same caliber of entertainment. It simply adds to the beauty of living in the valley. It really does.”

Coming Up

The Hamilton Performing Arts Series continues with the Grammy-winning Turtle Island String Quartet, Dec. 19; Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall, Feb. 7; Cathie Ryan Band, Feb. 28; “Defending the Caveman,” March 14; Chic Gamine, March 18; An Evening with Groucho, April 16; and The Nylons, May 9. Visit www.hamiltonpas.org for tickets and details.