Sizeable fine arts and music center coming to Fishtail
Call it Mozart in the mountains, or Beethoven in the Beartooths – the Tippet Rise Art Center will bring classical music and fine arts to rolling ranchland outside Fishtail.
Acoustic classical musical performances for small audiences will be the focus at Tippet Rise, according to Alban Bassuet, the art center’s first director, although he’s also keen on traditional Montana music.
Exact plans for the facility are evolving, but some venues have been completed. The 35-by-55 foot Music Barn will seat up to 200 people for small recital groups and also serve as an art galley. The “tiara” bandshell provides grand views of the Beartooth Mountains for 50-60 people beneath cutting-edge acoustics.
Last year, classes from Absarokee and Red Lodge and local ranchers attended performances at the bandshell.
“Some had never heard classical music before, and it brought tears to their eyes,” Bassuet said about the audience, mostly composed of ranchers from the community.
A website for the art center will be posted on July 15. Concerts will be scheduled about once a week from April through October and once a month from November through March, with an inaugural concert planned for April 2016, Bassuet said.
Bassuet is overseeing construction at the new facility. A pianist with a doctorate level education in acoustic engineering, he has helped design more than 200 concert halls around the world while working with Arup Inc., of New York.
Bassuet emphasizes the need for the art center to fit in with both nature and local culture, unlike metropolitan concert halls that are rigid and formal and can seat 3,000 people. This is a radical departure for Bassuet.
“The architecture at Tippet Rise is based on our local ranching heritage,” he said. “It’s been my experience that to be successful, we must be viable with the local community.”
Construction also is aimed at sustainability, with “no massive structures and deeply respectful of life.” Bassuet expects the facility will exceed LEED green-building certification. A centralized ground-source heat pump system will cool and heat the buildings, and a large solar power array will provide shade for audiences while recharging the art center’s fleet of electric carts.
A sculpture garden will be a walk away from the parking lot, and a small number of housing units will be built for performers, artists-in-residence and college students in the art center’s outreach program, Bassuet said. Currently some visitors are staying at a ranch house that came with the land.
Tippet Rise was established as a charitable nonprofit in 2011 by Cathy and Peter Halstead, accomplished artists, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Through the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, the couple have donated more than $135 million to numerous arts, education and environmental causes since 2004.
The Halsteads are the sole trustees for both foundations. In addition to philanthropy in California and Hawaii, they have supported art and music programs in Montana, including Skips Kids in Absarokee, the Carbon County Arts Guild in Red Lodge, the Billings Symphony Society and the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings.
Skips Kids offers daytime and after-school programming for about 150 children and young adults, from tutoring and gymnastics to safe hunting. Tippet Rise grants to the Carbon County Arts Guild have funded artists who provide weekly arts classes in Belfry, Fromberg, Roberts and Red Lodge.
Tippet Rise acquired the 11,000-acre ranchland on South Grove Creek Road near Fishtail in 2010 following a worldwide search. The property included a few homes and remnants of homesteaders’ cabins on rolling hills backdropped by the eastern front of the Beartooths.
“There are six canyons on the property, and two elk herds winter here,” Bassuet said.
Part of the ranch was once owned by Isabelle Johnson, renown as Montana’s first modernist artist. Much of her work – 71 oil paintings, 240 watercolors, 317 drawings and 40 sketchbooks – is kept at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Peter Halstead has walked the property and photographed some of the same landscapes once painted by Johnson.
“Isabelle was a rancher first, an artist second,” Bassuet said. “The same with Tippet Rise – we’re still ranching.”
Ben Wynthein, the Tippet Rise ranch manager, has installed new wells and gravity irrigation for the high country and moves grazing cattle around to improve the health of the land, Bassuet said. The Johnson portion of the property is protected by conservation easements.
“The intention here is very pure,” Bassuet said. “Nature magnifies human spirit, human spirit magnifies nature.”
According to a June 30 road agreement made with the Stillwater County Commissioners, the Halsteads will make improvements to South Grove Creek Road at their own expense to accommodate increased vehicular traffic to the new art center.
Improvements to the rutted gravel road will include replacing culverts and bridges as needed, dust abatement and weed control. Specifications for the work were handled by the DOWL engineering firm in Billings.