Libby’s Memorial Center

Supporting the center’s central role in local arts

By Moira Blazi

Living in a place like Libby used to bring with it a certain cultural isolation. Small towns in remote areas like ours, no matter how diverse and interesting their residents, just could not support large multi-cultural communities. Now-a-days, even the iconic mountain man stays connected to the entire world community with the internet, but nothing compares to real, in-person, hands-on experiences.
Recognizing and addressing this reality, the Montana Performing Arts Consortium (MPAC) enables first class performing artists from all over the world to share the beauty, knowledge and insight of their human experience with rural Montanans. Founded in 1981, MPAC’s mission is to 1) promote booking of quality artists, 2) increase skills in presenting and touring, and 3) reduce expenses for artists and presenters through block-booking.

Here in Libby, a group of talented, dedicated volunteers, known as the Kootenai Heritage Council (KHC), has been working with MPAC for several years to bring top tier performers from all over the world right here to Libby’s Memorial Events Center. KRC’s mission statement is “to preserve the heritage of Lincoln County Montana. To enhance culture, education, social and economic well-being through all forms of artistic activity and performing arts.” It is truly a labor of love, but one which brings tremendous rewards.

Gary Huntsberger is KHC’s board president. “The Memorial Center was originally built back in 1948 as the gym and auditorium for Libby High,” he said. “It is a very solid building.”
With part of the asbestos reparation money the city of Libby received from W.R. Grace, the old red brick high school gym was converted to a modern, state of the art multiuse performance venue, and a community concert series started there in the late 1990s. Over the ensuing years, the Center had several paid directors, until “In Jan. 2010, the organization decided to go on their own,” said Huntsberger. KHC has been run as a non-profit by a volunteer board of directors ever since. The current board includes Huntsberger, Patty Rambo, Lorraine Braun, Jennifer Nelson, Nicole Gilmore and Alyssa Ramirez, a group which brings a variety of skills and knowledge to the table. Most of the marketing, graphics and advertising is accomplished by Rambo who teaches art at Libby High School.
“Last summer I worked eight-hour days, basically full time, on press releases and brochures for the center,” Rambo told the Montanian. She does it because she believes in the importance of the work. “People need to realize that, to have a vibrant community, they have to support the arts and places like the Memorial Center,” she said.
Rambo emphasized the quality and reach of the performances brought to Libby. “In over 10 years I have only seen one performance I didn’t thoroughly enjoy” she said.

In addition, when KHC artists come to Libby to perform, part of their contract is school outreach. Braun coordinates the outreach and some performers make six or seven stops. They share their passion and talents personally with our local kids.

The upcoming 2018-2019 season will feature performers Sunday & Mrs. Goessel, a classic jazz duo from Seattle, Okaidja and band, a singing rhythmic, dance group from Ghana, Men of worth, described as “an old Scottish guy and an old Irish guy” playing instruments, singing and telling stories, and O Sole Trio, a pop-opera sensation.
As most residents know, the Memorial Center is also used for a myriad of local celebrations and events. The Irish Fair will be held there on March 10 followed by a showcase of Libby high school talent at their free talent show performance on March 20, and then Missoula Children’s Theatre’s Snow White on March 23 and 24. April will bring a performance of the Libby children ballet on the 7th, Thomas Pandolfi, piano virtuosos and performer extraordinaire on April 12, and then Cabinet Peaks Medical Center’s annual Health Fair on April 21.

In addition, the Memorial Center is the only place in town that can accommodate large fundraising events like CPMC’s Festival of Trees and Rotary’s Wine Tasting. Wedding receptions are also popularly held at the Memorial Center.

All these events could not have a better venue. The Libby memorial center truly is a first-class performance space, one that is 100% maintained by volunteers. In fact, of all the cities and towns that enjoy world-class entertainment of MPAC’s traveling artists, only the Kootenai Heritage Council here in Libby has the added responsibility of maintaining a facility. Huntsberger told the Montanian, “When Queen Noor, an African storyteller was here two years ago, she commented that “we don’t usually get to perform in places as nice as this.”
Allowing a rich cultural exchange is why the memorial center and the Kootenai Heritage council exist, and though they are funded in part by state and national grants, ticket sales are very important. Season passes are available and can be used by multiple people for multiple performances, allowing cost to not be a reason for anyone to stay home. At this juncture in the history of our town, as cultural identities are changing and evolving, it is more important than ever to support the enlightening entertainment brought to us by the Kootenai Heritage Council