On Nov. 4, the Paul D. Wachholz College Center at Flathead Valley Community College opened its first art exhibition to the public and hosted its first concert in the new McClaren Hall, signaling a milestone for the multi-million-dollar, 58,000-square-foot arts-and-entertainment complex that is poised to become one of the Flathead Valley’s central attractions.
The art exhibition, called “Gateway to Glacier,” featured selections from the Hockaday Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The debut musical performers were the Canadian folk and bluegrass trio The Wailin’ Jennys.
Swank Enterprises began construction in April 2020 and the facility opened earlier this fall. Still, the devil is in the details, and Wachholz Center Director Matt Laughlin said opening night went about as well as it could have under the circumstances. Although Laughlin had hoped to have all the details squared prior to the big opening event, with enough time in advance to allow staff some practice with ticket scanning, and ensuring tickets matched precisely to the venue’s sections, rows and seat numbers, the timeline was beset delays, including obtaining a certificate of occupancy, left little time for that.
“It was one of those things where we were literally hanging the pictures in the greenroom before The Wailin’ Jennys showed up last Friday, so it was kind of ‘Let’s finish everything and open the doors.’” Laughlin said. “Based on that timeline, I would say the end result was a smashing success.”
Laughlin said feedback from attendees has highlighted a few minor, fixable issues, like how they route concession lines, as well as controlling the temperature in McClaren Hall. The event was about 50 tickets shy of what they would consider a sell-out show. As Laughlin explained, McClaren Hall has seating for 1,014, but between artist holds and other seats reserved for a variety of reasons, a true sell-out in his eyes would be about 970 tickets. About 920 tickets were spoken for at the Wailin’ Jennys show, he said.
Before the Canadian band started playing, FVCC President Jane Karas had a chance to take the stage to welcome attendees and offer up her thanks to the community members and donors that helped make the night possible.
Before the show began, guests also had a chance to mingle and explore the Wanda Hollensteiner Art Gallery, where the “Gateway to Glacier” exhibition is housed. The exhibition includes work from a range of artists, including: Rudy Autio, Charles Davis, Jeanne Hamilton, Neil Parsons, Kevin Red Star, Karen Leigh, Mark Ogle, and Echo Ukrainetz. Laughlin said the plan is for a new exhibition to be housed in the gallery about every three months.
The center is continuing to work on its concession offerings. Currently, they offer beer, wine, hard cider, hard seltzer, soft drinks, water and soda water. The campus doesn’t allow hard alcohol, and food and drink are prohibited in McClaren Hall. Laughlin said he understands some people might like to have a beverage in hand during a show, but the restrictions for food and drink are intended to help maintain the space.
“When it’s a brand-new concert facility and it’s brand-new seats and brand-new carpets and all of that good stuff, we just want to make sure to preserve that space and make sure it’s maintained and always in good condition.”
Snacks were available on opening night, but Laughlin said the center has greater ambitions for food offerings. Food can’t be cooked on-site, so he said it would need to be pre-packaged, but the end goal is to partner with local bakeries and community businesses to offer a selection of sweet and savory items.
“We don’t want it to feel like a movie theater concession where you’re just getting candy bars,” he said. “Our goal is to have this be more of an elevated experience, and feature some local items.”
Upcoming events as of the Beacon’s press time included a Nov. 8 show by Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox; a Nov. 15 speaker series event with humor writer David Sedaris; a Nov. 17 National Geographic Live event with archaeologist Alicia Odewale focusing on stories of resilience in the hundred years since the Tulsa Race massacre; a pair of Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 Glacier Symphony Orchestra performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor; a Nov. 22 flamenco music performance by the Spanish group Alejandra; and a Nov. 29 performance from Portland-based musician, actor, playwright and author Storm Large.
The latest information on Wachholz College Center events can be found at wachholzcollegecenter.org.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.