changed in ways they may have least suspected. Art Education and Outreach Coordinator, Retta Leaphart, shared, “It’s really hard to not be inspired when you are at the Myrna. We all need the arts. The arts aren’t a luxury, they are a human need. The Myrna fulfills something that a lot of us are searching for.” Nationally recognized as a cultural powerhouse, the Myrna prides itself on being an integral part of the Helena community. Actress Myrna Loy, who lived down the road from the Jailhouse, was known for her grace, wit, creative artistry, social activism, and humor. The Myrna Loy strives to embody these characteristics by offering 20-30 performances a year, screening films not offered in mainstream theatres, sponsoring 15-20 artists a year through the grants to artists program and immersing itself in the community through various arts education programs. So, what can an evening at the Myrna Loy look like? Note the word “ can ” because most assuredly no two evenings are ever the same at The Myrna. One can arrive and grab a light bite and drink at The Pub. While at The Pub, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself joining a movie club or suddenly engaged in a conversation with a local artist. After, your light bites and beverage you will most likely find yourself in a conundrum. Should you take in an alternative film, channeling the passion of past Helena film lovers Arnie Malia, Alexandra Swaney, who along with a partner created the Helena Film Society in 1976? Or should you check out a live performance that feature talented artists and musicians from all over the world? Afterall, how often can one say, “I saw them at the Myrna Loy first?” If you find yourself still struggling to decide, do not fret, you can peruse the current art exhibit and perhaps if you are lucky join in an opening reception. The power of art to transform is the Myrna Loy. However, the Myrna Loy is not solely housed within the walls of the Jailhouse. The magic of the Myrna Loy can be found throughout the Helena community. The Myrna recognizes the challenges of being an artist in Montana. Artists living in the Lewis and Clark, Jefferson, and Broadwater counties can apply for a cash grant and technical support. Grants have been awarded to artists as young as sixteen.
The Myrna Loy also has an extensive arts education program whose guiding principle is “the arts are for everyone” and provides a plethora of opportunities aimed to inspire students to recognize that artistically based careers are valuable and viable career options and unquestionable assets to communities. The program works hard to provide opportunities for groups that wouldn’t necessarily have access to the arts. Intermountain, Shodair, the Project for Alternative Learning, Touchmark and Edgewood are just a few of the organizations that the arts education program has collaborated with. When designing programs, Retta Leaphart, often asks, “Which students need to see themselves reflected in the artists?” The education program has had some stand out moments. For instance, Capital High School students in the Functional Life Skills class, had a teaching artist who visited their classroom. Prior to their lessons with the teaching artist, one student in particular struggled to raise their hand. After the lessons, a paraprofessional who had been working closely with the student testified that the student began to raise their hand and was more socially engaged. Also in collaboration with the education program, fourth grade students at Warren Elementary learned to breakdance. Teachers noted that some students who struggled academically were able to shine and gain confidence through learning how to breakdance. It was also noted that dancing and cheering became more prevalent on the playground. The education programs provide students with new experiences; the programs validate students’ passions while also promoting empathy and understanding. The experiences that can be found at The Myrna Loy do the same for adults. The artistic experiences are deep, thoughtful, socially engaging, and designed to broaden horizons. The Myrna is a community gathering space that can also be described as a type of sanctuary. It is a space where you feel safe to feel challenged and empowered to think outside of the box. So, if you are new to Helena or new to hearing of the Myrna Loy, treat yourself to a treasure hunt. You deserve it. n
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