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  • Emily Wolfram

MPAC turns 40: A look back at the beginning...

The Montana Performing Arts Consortium has a long history of pursuing its three-fold mission:

  • to promote and encourage the touring of the performing arts throughout Montana in a professional and cost-effective manner

  • to provide support and technical assistance to performing arts presenters

  • to foster a favorable climate for both artists and presenters in Montana.

These goals were inherent in 1981 when presenters (then referred to as "sponsors") first began cooperative efforts to coordinate tours. They were formalized upon MPAC's incorporation in 1982.

MPAC logo. Text: Montana Performing arts Consortium turns 40!

Now in it's 40th year of hosting the annual block-booking conference and showcase, MPAC's mission and commitment to the arts remain the same. To celebrate, we've dug into the archives to re-discover and share the organization's progress through the decades. Thank you for being here to learn and celebrate! Read on for details of our founding and stay tuned for more via our email list, Facebook, and Instagram.


1981-1984

(From a 1986 conference publication)


The Montana Performing Arts Consortium began as an informal series of meetings organized by the Montana Arts Council and Montana performing arts sponsors (presenters) to encourage cooperation and block-booking of events to save money.


A steering committee was formed in November, 1981 and a series of block-booking sessions and workshops were held in Bozeman, Helena, Billings, and Great Falls. MPAC incorporated on November 16, 1982 and its tax exempt status with the IRS was received in 1983.

Excerpt of an invitation to MPAC's fall consortium meeting.
Invitation to a consortium meeting in fall of 1981.

The Consortium evolved into a performing arts touring development and booking organization headed by an energetic and entrepreneurial president (Arnie Malina) and governed by a volunteer board of directors. [MPAC counted 18 organizational members.] The Consortium [continued] to grow and refine its services.

Logo with a spotlight and "MPAC Montana Performing Arts Consortium"

To serve Montana sponsors more effectively, MPAC contracted with the Montana Institute of the Arts Foundation for administrative services in 1983. As a result, MPAC [was] able to operate much more efficiently with improved communications, membership, and financial records.


During the first four years, MPAC arranged 40 tours of performing arts events. MPAC saved sponsors $100,000 on reduced fees for block-booked events for the 1985-1986 season, which not only increased the number of events sponsors were able to offer but also stimulated audience growth.


MPAC leadership provided consultations which influenced the creation of a number of performing arts subscription series including: Hobson (Judith Cultural Committee), Havre (Northern Montana College), White Sulphur Springs, Fort Peck, and Choteau (Performing Arts League.)



1984: The First Conference

The first MPAC booking conference was held on April 27-28, 1984 at Paris Gibson Square Museum, in Great Falls. Arnie Malina was a founding member and the president at the time. Arnie was also the founder of the Helena Film Society (now The Myrna Loy Center.)

Excerpt from MPAC's 1984 conference brochure. Photo of rabbit being pulled from a hat  and text describing what to expect at the conference.
Brochure for MPAC's first conference in 1984

Document with MPAC logo, Presidents Message, text, and signature of Arnie Malina
President's message in the first MPAC newsletter in Dec1983

Other founding members included Ian Elliot of the Billings Fox Theater (now the Alberta Bair Theater), Victor Gotesman of ASUM Programming at the University of Montana in Missoula, Ralph Paulus of the Performing arts League of Choteau, Keay Cowen of the Lewistown Art Center in Billings, and Helen Aaberg of the Liberty County Arts Council.


MPAC’s first conference included workshops, consultations, a live showcase promoting 13 Montana artists, and a “video showcase” of events already booked for the 1984-85 season.


[The founders and early members of] MPAC [believed] that Montana artists’ development must go hand in hand with sponsor development. In 1984 MPAC initiated the first Montana Performing Artists Showcase, which [became] an annual event along with a block-booking conference.

—From a 1986 conference publication




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