Preserve Historic Missoula Night was last week and the people who showed up were treated to an incredible presentation on the historic barns of Montana. Chere Juisto, Christine Brown, and Tom Ferris gave an excellent and often humorous presentation on their recent book “Hand-Raised: Historic Barns of Montana“. A couple of pictures really stood out during the presentation, and there were dozens and dozens of great photographs. These two images showed a barn, and I don’t recall where it was, in the condition that the authors found it. The second photograph showed the same barn after it had received quite a bit of TLC from its owners. The ranch owners were so excited that someone was actually interested in their old barn that they fixed it up and slapped a fresh coat of paint on it.
PHM also provided a recap of their activities for the past year and it was a good year for PHM and the historic preservation community. PHM awarded two $500.00 paint grants, one to a historic home owner in Missoula and the other to the Nine Mile Community Center. PHM also purchased and donated $500.00 worth of books for the Missoula Public Library. The books are all on the topic of historic preservation and at the request of PHM, the books are in the general collection for circulation instead of being housed in the non-circulating reference section. PHM continues to fund the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission’s street banner program. During the month of May, which is Historic Preservation Month, the HPC hangs a series of banners on Missoula’s downtown streets. PHM also continues to fund the historic signs program, whereby PHM pays for National Register of Historic Places signs for historic homes in Missoula’s historic districts.
There were a number of historic preservation groups in attendance as well. PHM provides table space for these groups so that they can show case their efforts at preserving a local historic place or even a museum. I had the chance to visit with the members of the Garnet Preservation Association about their participation and they said they were thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of the evening and that it gave them a chance to keep the public informed about their historic preservation efforts at Garnet.
PHM and members of the audience were also treated to an exceptional performance by Ellie Nuno and her band. The music served to underscore the historic preservation theme of the evening. Her gracious presence and support for PHM was appreciated by the audience.
Unfortunately the evening was not very well attended by members of the historic preservation community. Past events hosted by PHM, at the same location in Heritage Hall at Fort Missoula, have seen packed houses with people turning away from the door because the Hall was too full. Two years ago, for example, nearly 160 people packed into the historic Heritage Hall for PHM Night. Its worth noting that the evening serves to acknowledge what other people and groups are doing in our community as well as raising money for PHM’s projects. Unfortunately, the Missoulian did not run a story on PHM Night this year. In years past the Missoulian would run a lengthy story on PHM Night, show casing the various speakers that were going to present or even writing about the various people that were being recognized through the awards being handed out. This year, however, the Missoulian did not run a story on the evening and the huge decline in attendance was really disturbing.
I don’t believe for a moment that the Missoula community does not support historic preservation and the efforts of PHM. But the fact there were only a dozen people in attendance is troubling. I wonder if some of the decreased attendance was due to a misguided sense of complacency, the people of Missoula think that there is no need to show support since everyone knows and supports the efforts of PHM. There were no real scheduling conflicts that night, we have gone head to head against other non profit organizations in years past but not this year. It was disappointing to see that not a single recipient of any of the paint grants were in attendance. PHM has awarded thousands of dollars in paint grants over the years and yet none of the folks showed up to say thanks. PHM has donated money to other non profit groups over the years through donations or memberships and none of these groups were in attendance this year.
But I think that probably the most difficult part of the evening was the realization that the lack of coverage by the Missoulian really played a large role in the drop in attendance. PHM has worked with the press over the years to cultivate a solid professional working relationship. The response by the editor and the local reporter to my phone calls and emails was disappointing. I had the opportunity to speak with other preservation people that night and they expressed the same concerns about the press not showing any interest in their efforts or activities. I think that this is a serious problem that the historic preservation community in Missoula must address in the very near future. Of course, that will be a continuing part of the blogging here. Thanks and I hope to see at the 2014 Preserve Historic Missoula Night.