Montana State University

Project Montana: Gathering together to save lives through culture

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

We design and build critical access to the arts and the humanities to bridge cultural, generational, geographical, economic, health and political divides and increase resilience in our rural, Tribal and underserved communities. Our cross-disciplinary network of arts organizations, museums, libraries, educational and cultural institutions, and community organizations are joining forces to dramatically change lives. By expanding critical access to the humanities and integrating information on behavioral health concerns and available resources, we will advance key goals of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan. Our work demonstrates the power of expression; telling one’s story through the arts and humanities to establish connections and promote cooperation. Sharing our narratives builds relationships and bridges of experience, foster vitality and shape the paths for cultural continuity and while maintaining cultural traditions to improve the lives of our most at-risk populations, including children, the elderly, Native Americans and Veterans.

Problem Statement

Montana leads the United States in deaths of despair – with a growing population at risk for suicide, depression, substance abuse and poverty. Our goal is to arrest and eradicate this hopelessness, through immersive experiences in art, music, and the humanities. We intend to reach every Montanan and strive to eventually inspire hope and artistic inspiration through shared stories to the Nation and the world. We believe Montana is a microcosm of the challenges faced by a Nation and a world suffering from the erosion of individual and community agency. Our identities are fragmented across nonintegrated cultural and social institutions. Current and historical policies for control and exploitation of the American West as well as technological and economic shifts including global growth of high tech and knowledge economies, have left many of our communities behind. Coupled with vast geographical separation - our rural, Tribal and remote rural communities are struggling to find their voices and to envision a future where people can thrive. We need a new paradigm for integrating cultural and social institutions to help individuals find meaning and hope in their communities. A robust, shared sense of identity steeped in place or community culture and personal expression is fundamental to creating resilience.

Solution Overview

We confront the problem of erosion and fragmentation of identity by empowering expression through the arts and humanities (A&H) to create connection and a new sense of community. Our programs empower individuals and communities to tell their stories through expression in the arts and humanities. Stories transcend the individual experience, degrade isolation, and create a sense of community and access to an experience with the wider global community. Expression in the A&H’s gives a voice for a purposeful self and rebalances as well as revalues individual identity. Our work encourages collaboration across the arts and humanities through “Creativity Forums” to enable multidisciplinary discovery of heritage and expression of identity, in order to create lives that are free from want and fear. In Creativity Forums unexpected combinations of organizations come together to craft local solutions. Although the problem is large, success is measurable and can positively impact every Montanan. By integrating our efforts with state-designed training for Extension Service agents in every county on suicide awareness and prevention we will help meet statewide goals for suicide prevention and enhance suicide awareness and prevention training capacity statewide. Progress occurs through increased connection (artist to student, community to community, region to region), increased engagement (individuals, students, communities, institutions) and a universal increase in program access and success state-wide (current metrics will serve as baseline for demonstrated improvement in overall well-being).

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