The scent of fresh paint filled the interior of the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center last week as its new director worked to transform the 50-year-old center from the inside out before its reopening in March.
New executive director Cheryl Hanes hit the ground running with plans for the art center’s next chapter following her acceptance of the position last month. Hanes, a Bigfork resident of 18 years, joined the art center as a volunteer during the summer of 2016 to handle the organization’s accounting needs.
“I came in as a volunteer and I was hooked. This is like my second home now,” Hanes said. “It was a stepping stone. I just kept taking on more responsibility and then became part of the staff.”
Upon joining the staff, Hanes could be found greeting visitors and artists every day while continuing to manage many of the center’s business aspects, including bookkeeping and inventory in the gift shop.
After 18 months of service, she and former director Valerie Homer agreed to divide up management between a two-woman team to accomplish their shared vision for the center’s future.
Their new partnership now allows Homer to focus on her love and skill with all things art as the art director, while Hanes leads on the business side of operations.
Hanes’ business background spans through decades of working with her husband to help new or struggling businesses restructure and reorganize their business plans through hiring, training, financial planning, sales and marketing.
After 20 years of working with various resorts in Hawaii, the couple decided to move to the “main land” and started working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Five years later, they made their first trip to the Flathead and fell in love with the “cultural haven” of Bigfork.
“There’s a certain type of person/personality that’s drawn to this area. It’s so beautiful. It’s so breathtaking, and it’s inspiring,” Hanes said of Bigfork. “The creativity just pops out.”
Since moving to the area, Hanes said she has discovered a creative side of her own, tapping into a love of writing and creating her own visual art while coming to appreciate the work of others.
“I’ve become emotionally attached really to this building and the people who work here, the volunteers,” Hanes said.
As part of her plan to rejuvenate the art center, Hanes has played a key role in current renovations underway on the upper level, which has long been inaccessible to visitors. According to Hanes, the upstairs will soon host a permanent museum of revolving exhibits that showcase the history of Bigfork through the project “Bigfork: A Montana Story.”
Visitors will also have the opportunity to add new stories at a workstation within the museum, creating a continuously growing archive of local history.
“There have been so many people who supported [the center] through ups and downs that I think it’d be great to give back,” Hanes said. “We’re here for you guys now. What do you want to see and what can we do to help you?”
Some of the ways Hanes hopes to give back through the center in the future include potential internships, scholarships, the inclusion of more authors in the gift shop and more lectures, classes and presentations on the events calendar.
Her ultimate vision, she said, is to make the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center a go-to place on par with the theater and restaurants that make up downtown Bigfork’s social scene.
Though she now holds a new position, Hanes said she will still be on the front lines of the center, greeting visitors, managing volunteers and getting to know artists.
On the slow winter days leading up to the center’s reopening in March, she takes on the duty of cleaning and organizing forgotten areas of the center, including the basement where she has uncovered heaps of lost treasures.
Hanes said she also plans to update the center’s social media and website, creating better channels for communication and feedback between the staff and public.
Together with her new partner and a team of volunteers, Hanes plans to unite the center’s history with a bright new future.
Beginning March 13, the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center will reopen to the public for what Hanes said she thinks will be “a banner year.”
To view an events calendar for the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center, visit http://bigforkculture.org/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.