Rita Collins



Students in a classroom around a large table working on a large mural

Artist Paul Taylor brought into our community with support from Montana Arts Council. Photo by Rita Collins

The Sunburst Community Service Foundation first began in Eureka, MT in 1994. Four community members identified pressing needs for social services, arts and community education. Since our inception, this nonprofit has grown to serve other communities in western Montana as well. In Eureka though, there are so many reminders of how much the arts have enriched lives over the last twenty years on a daily basis. A walk through town or sitting over coffee with a local will surely demonstrate how this town is much richer thanks to having the arts be an integrated part of our community. The local library has beautiful murals painted on its outside walls depicting historical moments in the valley (thanks to a grant that Sunburst obtained). Every year Sunburst brings in artists and musicians to do outreach in our rural schools. Sunburst arranges classes so skilled individuals in our community can pass on their crafts. A young man who grew up in Eureka and is now doing graduate work in astrophysics wrote, "Sunburst’s various programs that brought in outside artists for performances and workshops opened my eyes to the outside world and expanded the possibilities I saw for my life. Suddenly, the world seemed more accessible. Seeing all of these people who had followed their dreams made following my own passions seem like a viable option, and I took it."

This story is about vision and hard work. It involves believing that it was possible to bring in quality concerts to this town of 1,037 and making it happen (this is our 17th season for the Performing Arts Series). It was supporting local artists and musicians, finding ways for them to sell their creations, finding funds to support weekly music at the farmers market, and helping find resources which would allow them to become more widely known. And always cheering us on in many ways are agencies like the Montana Arts Council, Montana Performing Arts Consortium, WESTAF and the National Endowment for the Arts. Without their support, our struggle would have been much, much more difficult. Eureka, Montana is a small isolated community in a county that has the highest unemployment in the state. We are not a rich town by any means but we have managed, and will continue to do so, to have the arts be part of our lives. And it is not just learning about art from urban areas, but celebrating the creativity of people in this valley.