Interview with Chris Riccardo, Executive Director of the Holter Museum
For those who don’t know, I’m a patron of the arts. I’ve learned that the arts help unite us and connect us to the community, whether it’s our museums, theaters, or music. Art allows us to share our history and culture and an opportunity for the world to see who we are.
However, Republicans are often “painted” out as being opposed to the arts. Though I don’t share that sentiment, I wanted to reach out and hear directly from Chris Riccardo, the executive director of the Holter Museum of Artin Helena, MT, for his thoughts on this subject.
If you would like to donate to the Holter Museum, please click here.
Mr. Ricardo, Where are you from?
My wife, Melody, and our two youngest children came to Helena from Florida.
How did you land in Helena, MT?
I had the opportunity to spend the summer of 2012 at The Archie Bray Foundation of the Ceramic Arts.
How did you first become a patron of the arts?
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be an artist.
What do the arts mean to you?
Art has shaped my life for as long as I can remember. The act of creativity is vital to how we look at problems and issues in our community. It can deliver us from the anxiety of our everyday lives. Whether you consider yourself an “arts” person or not, being creative can be transformative for us all.
What motivated you to want to become the Director of the Holter Museum?
I have had the pleasure of being a professional artist for the majority of my life. Like so many artists we sometimes have to look at other means of producing income to supports ourselves, and for me, that meant working in the administration of nonprofit arts organizations. Upon arriving in Helena, I wanted to continue my work with at-risk teens and veterans, so I reached out to the Holter to see if they could use my help. I started working 10 hours a week, spending the rest of my time in my studio. After a few months, it became clear that the museum was struggling, showing similar issues as other organizations I had been involved with. It was that experience that led me to the ED position at the Holter.
Tell me more about the healing arts program you started?
The Holter Healing Arts Program is modeled after a similar program I began in Florida. In the same way, art helps me cope with day to day stresses and issues, I’ve been blessed to share the healing power of art with others. The HHA program is currently based at St. Peter’s Health. The program brings the arts directly to patients, their families, and the hospital staff. There are mobile art studios placed throughout the museum. These carts contain a variety of art supplies and projects for patients to use. Every waiting room has “maker stations” that offer art supplies to help families pass the time and each nurse’s break room contains “maker stations”. Our instructors also teach art to those in the Behavior Health Unit. We know from research and feedback from patients and staff that the ability to create art in the hospital aided in their healing process.
How important are the arts to the community and why?
Helena is a perfect example of the importance of art in a community. It is a
huge part of community identity, imagine downtown without the 3 major arts organizations! I’ve spoken with so many visitors to our town that are extremely impressed with our arts community. Comparing our museum, community theaters, and orchestra as world-class. These same visitors to our arts organizations mean dollars. The tourism income generated by the arts in Helena is substantial and would be greatly missed if we weren’t here. Another benefit of the arts is how it helps shape the youth of our community. The arts offer a safe place for children to express themselves without fear of being judged. I currently have two employees who as young children came through our arts education programs, saying those programs had a lasting impression on them, enough to bring them back as employees.
How has the COVID crisis affected the museum?
The Holter has always been a free museum, so we haven’t been hurt financially by the limited number of visitors, but those visitors don’t have the same access to our exhibitions. The biggest struggle an arts non-profit faces are fundraising. Even in the best of times, we all struggle to find our patrons and grants. The pandemic has forced us all to look at how we spend our money and who we should support when there are so many without jobs, food, and housing. While some might not think the arts are important in times like these, we at the Holter have shown the community how art can heal. Patents who credit our healing arts program with shortening their recovery time, teens sharing their creative process and how it turned them away from suicidal thoughts, and so many other inspiring stories about the power of art.
Politically, what issues are affecting the arts right now?
I personally believe the one issue we continue to see over and over is the funding of the arts. The Democrat Party has always been seen as the party of the arts, while the Republican Party has always been behind budget cuts to the arts. With the new awareness of the healing power of art, for example, the incredible effect art has had on the treatment of Ph.D. in veterans, I have personally witnessed art take the place of multiple medications in a vet’s life.
Do you find a lot of Republican support for the arts?
I have had experiences where Republican leaders have taken offense to certain content in an artist’s work or exhibition, even been threatened with funding being withdrawn from the state.
Why do you think is the cause of the lack of support?
There are Republicans who support the arts and understand their importance in our society and I wish they would reach out to leaders in the arts to better understand the power of art in our community, so they can show others.
The biggest question is why should Republican leaders care more about the Arts?
The simple fact is “art heals”! Art therapy has proven to be one of the cheapest yet effective forms of therapy available.
How can Republicans give more support?
Reach across the aisle and look for ways to make sure the arts are properly funded.
What advice do you have for Republicans?
Art is not just looking at a painting on a wall and making an uninformed decision about whether or not it is “offensive”, “ugly” or “worthless” and therefore not acceptable for funding. Artists are free to express themselves in any way they see fit. It may not always be “pretty” in some people’s minds, but it’s the beauty of being an artist in America. So, my message to ALL politicians..art SAVES lives, and someday it might help one of your loved ones or maybe even you yourself one day.
If you would like to donate to the Holter Museum, please click here or consider donating to your local arts community.