Elevating Indigenous Voices at the Missoula Art Museum

Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin’s I Think it Goes Like This (Gold) inspires the Missoula Art Museum to elevate local Indigenous voices thorough their inaugural Art Host program.

Missoula - Galanin - U. Montana and Sarah Urist Green discussing Galanin

Awareness and Practice

Situated on the traditional, ancestral territories of the Séliš (Salish or “Flathead”) and Qlispé (upper Kalispel or Pend d’Oreille) peoples, the Missoula Art Museum (MAM) seeks to recognize the Indigenous stewards of the land it occupies through their collecting practices and programming.

In spring 2021, MAM borrowed Nicholas Galanin’s I Think It Goes Like This (Gold) from the Art Bridges collection and installed it in their Lynda M. Frost gallery, an art space dedicated to the display and interpretation of contemporary American Indian art. Featuring a deconstructed non-Alaskan Native made tourist commodity totem pole covered in gold leaf, the conceptual work engages with art reclamation, while critically examines appropriation and exploitation of Indigenous culture.

Missoula - Galanin #3 - Slikati Photography
Nicholas Galanin, I Think it Goes Like This (Gold), 2019, wood, paint and gold leaf, variable. Art Bridges.
Courtesy of Slitkati Photography, 2021. Copyright the artist.

Art Host Program

As Montana’s size makes visiting MAM difficult for many, the Museum used their Art Bridges’ Learning & Engagement project to build personal relationships with Tribal communities across the state and expand access to the work. Their inaugural Art Host program was thus born, made up of representatives from each of Montana’s seven reservations – Fort Belknap, Chief Dull Knife, Flathead, Crow, Blackfeet, Fort Peck, Rocky Boy’s, and the currently landless Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. 8 Art Hosts were selected with diverse backgrounds in art therapy, public health, education, and visual art and deep connections within their respective communities. During the spring of 2021, the Art Host committee met virtually and created their own community engagement projects, which Galanin and I Think It Goes Like This (Gold) helped inform. The Art Hosts were essential in building relationships between Montana’s tribal communities and the museum and in strengthening connections among the different reservations and contemporary Indigenous artists.

MAM entrusted much of the planning and execution of its programming to the Art Hosts. Acknowledging the long and exploitive relationships museums have created with Indigenous communities, the Art Host program sought to re-imagine and re-build trust by centering Indigenous voices.

“[The Art Host program] has given me a chance to tell people, not just artists, “Don’t forget to stop at the museum.” I will continue promoting MAM with the Apsáalooke community, starting with the market on the Crow Reservation.” – Samuel Enemy Hunter (Crow), Art Host

Missoula - Galanin #2 -Art Host Training
Image of a virtual Art Host conversation with artist Nicholas Galanin. Courtesy of Missoula Art Museum, 2021

Critical Impact

Building upon prior Native exhibitions like Jay Laber: Reborn Rez Wrecks and Lillian Pitt: Honoring My Ancestors, the presentation of I Think it Goes Like This (Gold) continues MAM’s commitment to showing Native art and using it as a source of connection and conversation. While the work’s display occurred over the course of three months, it helped create the foundation for relationships MAM will continue to build over the next several years. Most notably, the program helped the museum identify how it will continue to serve community needs and interests, including prioritizing staff participation in events held on the various reservations, such as art markets, powwows, and gatherings. This practice of reciprocity and thinking about the multi-directionality of relationship building was a key success of this Art Bridges-supported programming. To learn more about the program and the Art Hosts, click here.

In addition to the Art Host program, the museum continued to offer its Saturdays With MAM, a virtual program designed for families who are unable to visit the museum in person.  Featuring a family-friendly workshop, an art-making activity, and a specialized yoga exercise, each session responded to Galanin’s work by providing multiple entry points for engagement designed for all ages.

Missoula - Galanin - U. Montana and Sarah Urist Green discussing Galanin
University of Montana class and Sarah Urist Green discussing Galanin’s I Think It Goes Like This (Gold).

Why We Love This Project

Through the loan of Nicholas Galanin’s I Think it Goes Like This (Gold), the Missoula Art Museum continued to honor their commitment to centering contemporary American Indian art. We love that MAM used this opportunity to build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities by creating layered and sustainable programming. As many of the key audiences for this project live in rural, isolated areas, the museum thoughtfully built the infrastructure to respond to the needs of these populations, prioritizing Native knowledge and voices. We also love that the museum took a holistic approach to community building and understood this project to be one of many in their ongoing mission to serve the diverse Indigenous communities in the region.

Article Information

Published December 23, 2021

  • Programming
  • Missoula Art Museum (MAM)

About  Missoula Art Museum (MAM)

Missoula Art Museum is a spectacular attraction in the heart of Missoula’s historic downtown: a fully accessible, free, public museum that boasts eight exhibition spaces, a library, education center, and an inviting information lounge.