GREAT FALLS — Event organizers fought hard to avoid it in 2020, but in the end, Western Art Week fell victim to COVID-19, as a 50-year streak came to end with one canceled event after another.
Now, in 2021, Great Falls Montana Tourism has officially announced the planned return of the well-known tradition to the Electric City.
Marisela Hazzard is the Content Director for Great Falls Montana Tourism. She says she’s received many questions in recent months about the status of Western Art Week in 2021, even from people outside of the Treasure State.
“I’ve been having a gentleman call me from Florida every week asking when it’s going to be,” she said. “There are other news publications around the country that also highlight Western Art Week, and their magazines are going to press and they want to know what is happening because, obviously, including the Western Art capital of the world in their publication is going to sound great. But until we had that meeting earlier this week, we weren’t sure what the plan was.”
Although there are undoubtedly more meetings to come as plans are ironed out and COVID-19 precautions are adjusted to keep event-goers safe, it’s officially official: Western Art Week is scheduled to return in 2021.
It won’t look the same as in previous year, but then again, what does during this pandemic? Western Art Week will essentially be split in two and divided between March and August. The current plan is to have a small handful of events between March 17 and March 20. Charlie Russell’s birthday is March 19, and Hazzard explained that they would be remiss not to offer some sort of celebration during his birthday month, as long as it could be done safely.
“We are going to have three, tentatively four events in March for the normal Western Art Week that has a long-standing tradition in Great Falls. However, some of the shows do not have models that can accommodate the current restrictions that the Cascade County Health Department has for larger events,” Hazzard explained. “So, with hopes of the vaccination helping, possibly the mask mandate going away, if that ever will, that allows them to have the kind of event they normally have, but in August.”
As of right now, the updated WesternArtWeek.com says the plan is to have events like the Studio 706 Art Show, March in Montana Auction, and other events in the March 18-21 window. According to a Friday press release from Great Falls Montana Tourism, the C.M. Russell Museum will also have an “education symposium and sealed bid sale” during that week. The Western Collectibles and Antiques Show will also take place at Montana ExpoPark. COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place at each event happening in March.
Then, officials and event planners are hoping that a five-month cushion after those events will allow for a slightly more normal series of events beginning on August 18 and running through August 22. Those events that have migrated to August for this year include the Out West Art Show, Great Western Living & Design Show, Jay Contway and Friends Art Show, and more.
Hazzard stressed that it’s important for people to understand that Western Art Week itself is not moving, because Charlie Russell’s birthday will always be March 19, pandemic or not. The hope is that, with the aid of vaccinations and warmer temperatures, moving many events to August will provide a safer, more enjoyable environment for all Western Art Week attendees, from Montana and beyond.
“2020 was hard for tourism overall, not just that one event, but that was the first large scale event that was postponed and eventually canceled, so it wasn’t just that,” Hazzard said, referring to the Western Art Week events. “It was a lot more of events and the State Fair being canceled, the limited capacities for restaurants. So, it wasn’t only Western Art Week’s fault that we weren’t able to have a booming tourism industry. I know that, for 2021, we are excited for tourism and tourists to return.”