Any place called the Myrna Loy Center deserves investigation. So I sent a cold email and was pleased when Krys Holmes, the Center’s Director, invited me to visit the massive historic building that was once Helena’s jail and now serves art. A unique place deserves a unique space.
Back in 1975 Arnie Molina, a New York City transplant, started showing art films in a second story space in downtown Helena. “He did everything – sold tickets and popcorn, projectionist and janitor. He had this ‘let’s do it’ attitude about everything.” Within the first year he added live performances and the Myrna Loy Center, named for the famous film star from nearby Radersburg, was born.
Krys grew up in Helena where her father was pastor of a large Methodist Church. She moved to Rapid City, Billings, and Alaska. In the early 1990’s Krys felt the gravitational pull of her hometown. She returned, immersed herself in the local art scene, settled, and wrote a state history published by the Montana Historical Society.
Now Krys leads a staff of five plus projectionists and volunteers. The Center presents two to three films every day except Christmas and produces twenty to thirty live performances each year. The Myrna Loy Center has a three-pronged mission. “We bring national and international artists to Helena. We nourish local artists by giving them exposure, and we offer arts education and residency programs in classrooms, healing environments, and to community members who don’t have access to the arts.”
“Arts and creativity build community resilience. There’s this language about healthy communities. But you don’t have to be healthy to be resilient. I had a cancer experience. I wasn’t healthy and then sick and then healthy again. I was resilient throughout a variety of experiences.” The Myrna Loy Center strives to make Helena more resilient. “We bring the national and international conversations into our neighborhood. Living in Helena is a choice – we choose to live off the beaten track. But we still want to know the bigger picture. Entertainment takes you out of the world, and there is a place for that. Art pulls you deeper into the world. That’s what we strive for here.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“There’s a nervous sense that computers will take over and where will people be? I don’t worry about that. My brother is an artist who is very computer literate. He is worried about singularities, that we can be usurped. I think humans have a place in the universe.
“I believe that the enormous challenges we face will make us grow up and make us solve our problems together. How we will live tomorrow will reflect what we truly believe.
“I also think the strong who survive will do so by the strength of their relationships. Genghis Khan conquered the world by gathering the world in, not by shutting it out. Our connections are our strongest asset.
“At heart I’m an Old Testament girl. I see Cain and Abel. The hunter-gatherers see themselves as stewards, responsible to the planet and its continuity. The agrarians say, ‘This is my land, my water. I have the right, the responsibility to guard my boundaries for the betterment of myself and my tribe.’”
“Montana has seven Indian reservations. To his day people say, “What’s the matter with these people?” If goes back to the Indian School movement. We took these kids, by law, and moved them away. They were denied learning family skills, native language, heritage. When that is taken away, there are repercussions to this day.