New Project Seeks to Build Arts Center in Kalispell

Facility would be accessible to everyone, founders say, and be located on impending walking trail downtown

By Molly Priddy
A conceptual rendering of what an arts and cultural center could look like here. Courtesy of Zach George, Workaday

The idea of an art and culture center in the Flathead Valley isn’t a new one, but it’s a dream that has persisted for decades with such intensity that it may now have an avenue to come to fruition.

Last week, the founders of the Kalispell Contemporary Arts Foundation, or KALICO, announced their vision for a new art and cultural hub for Kalispell, one accessible to all with space for big events or concerts and everything in between.

The Feb. 27 launch party at Montana Modern Fine Art on Main Street saw about 80 people stream through the doors to support the endeavor, where the founders debuted their plan to the public.

Adam Shilling, who teaches fine arts and building trades at Summit Preparatory School, and Alisha Shilling have had this arts center in their minds for 20 years. The married couple sat in a local coffee shop and talked about it in 1999, sketching it on a napkin.

They saw an opportunity to bring this dream to life, however, as they saw Kalispell begin the redevelopment of its core through major federal grants and a specific vision of a walking path replacing the train tracks running through downtown.

“We started to notice that funding was coming through,” Alisha Shilling said. “It felt like the right time.”

The Feb. 27 event was an introduction to the project, which the Shillings have also worked on with Abby Hartmann. They envision a place where people can go for entertainment, classes, music, theater, artist residencies, art therapy, studio spaces, event spaces, and more. It would be accessible to everyone, regardless of age, financial situation, or experience with art, and it would be located on the new walking trail running through Kalispell.

The project is still in its beginning stages — the board for this project has yet to be set — but there is momentum already. To get them rolling, KALICO received an anonymous $75,000 donation, Alisha Shilling said, which gives them more legitimacy when approaching other groups or governments about the idea.

“I have 13 people who were interested in being on our board, which is a huge success,” Alisha Shilling said after the event. “That gave me a lot of hope in that people saw the vision and want to be a part of it.”

Kyle Waterman, Kalispell city councilor for Ward 3, spoke at the event, noting that the city is interested in working with groups like this because the city is limited with how it can develop its core with grants.

“We’re in a position of growth. We have the core plan funded, but we’re going to run out of money at some point,” Waterman said. “It’s helpful to us, having a group that wants to be making art and providing family-friendly activities while also being a funding partner.”

The initial stages of the project will include plenty of fundraising, building the board, and strategic planning, Alisha Shilling said. While KALICO awaits its nonprofit status, the Flathead Community Foundation will host its fundraising efforts. Donations can be made on the FCF website, but will eventually be possible on the KALICO website at www.kalicoartcenter.com.

“It’s about creating authentic community,” Adam Shilling said.

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