Andy Smetanka: An Artist, Sort Of

by Travis Mateer

Writing about one of Missoula’s most celebrated culture makers, Andy Smetanka, takes me back to my formative experiences as a college student in this college town, all way back to the turn of the century, the year 2000. That’s when a fantastic professor by the name of Mary Groom Hall plucked me out of orientation and convinced me to sign up for a FIG (freshman interest group) even though I was a transfer student.

Being a member of the creative writing FIG was an important part of my early years in Missoula because I met some amazing people, a few who I am still friends with. MORE importantly, though, it’s where I first had the distinct privilege of getting my first taste of The Smetanka.

Andy Smetanka appeared in our humble classroom, invited by our adoring FIG leader (who was clearly nerd-fucking him in her mind while he spoke to us) so he could impart some AMAZING wisdom about how to land a Fulbright Scholarship, which he had done himself.

The advice? Pick something obscure, like a hipster would do. Andy, from what I can recall, studied an obscure Finnish war, or something. I wonder what else one can apply this hipster-inspired concept to?

Anyway, back to our cherished cultural jewel, Andy Smetanka, who will be showing his film MISSOULA: A PLACE, SORT OF on April 15th at the ZACC.

What is this film “about”? That’s a silly question, and if you ask it, you are indicating your intellectual prowess is probably not up to the task of viewing this film. But for those of you who CAN produce enough brainpower, let’s take a look at the Kickstarter campaign that announced this sort-of-artist’s intention with his film project:

The short version, here, is that I intend to make a ravishing documentary about my adopted hometown of Missoula, Montana, full of love and mystery and some affectionate ribbing, called A Place Sort Of, to celebrate 25 years of livIng here. The long version, relayed below, is that this film project–an enigmatic “city symphony” film with its spiritual origins in a t-shirt design that happened almost by accident four decades ago–has been, as you might guess, a long time coming. 

I am emphasizing the AFFECTIONATE RIBBING part of The Smetanka’s description because it’s important to note that criticizing one’s “adopted” hometown is just fine when you’re an intellectual with hipster glasses who studied an obscure Finnish war and has lived here for 25 years, but, as we will learn, it is NOT OK for a literary OUTSIDER to swoop in and write critically about this sort of place.

To process the trauma of having the reputation of one’s “adopted” hometown so mercilessly besmirched in print and–even worse–placing our town’s name MISSOULA on the cover, The Smetanka applied his sort-of artistic skills to create a properly censored version of Krakauer’s cover.

Since Andy’s skills weren’t up to the task to accomplish this strategically censored poster all by himself, I reached out to the OTHER artist involved in this talented effort in blocking out enough letters of Krakauer’s name to make the word “our”.

Yes, you read that right, it took TWO artists to make this artistic statement of strategic censorship. From the link:

Smetanka doesn’t know what’s in the book, but he knows Krakauer has tapped prepositional phrases for other titles. “Into the Wild.” ”Into Thin Air.” ”Under the Banner of Heaven.”

Why not one for Missoula?

“I wanted to come up with something that was an artful protest against the name of the book, but it ended up being a little more ambiguous,” Smetanka said.

In fact, the depiction by him and Greg Twigg appears to reflect some community members’ reaction to the rape reports, as well as the later protest against the title.

If you didn’t pick up on the shade being thrown by the author of the article, Keila Szpaller, that’s because she’s hasn’t referenced Jim Foley yet.

In the poster, Smetanka blocked out letters in Krakauer’s name so the poster says “Our Missoula” instead of “Jon Krakauer” and “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.”

Early on, some UM officials and Grizzlies boosters similarly tried to block out news the campus had a rape problem. Former UM vice president Jim Foley, for instance, protested the media’s use of the term “gang rape” to describe a report a UM student made that she’d been assaulted by four UM football players.

Foley since left the university, and current UM president Royce Engstrom fired former football coach Robin Pflugrad and athletic director Jim O’Day.

The poster also reflects the reaction many people had to the book’s title. Why not call it Boulder, where Krakauer is based?

“Missoulians are kind of wonderfully defensive and touchy about our image,” Smetanka said.

I added the emphasis where Andy Smetanka pretends he has the agency to speak for ALL Missoulians regarding how we feel about “our” image because I find it quite impressive, still, all these years later, what some people in this town decided to get outraged about back then.

I was curious what The Smetanka’s co-creator thought of this statement piece in our current climate of campus censorship, so I found Greg Twigg’s email (since he’s a professor of digital art and technology at the University of Montana) and sent him this email:

Sadly, I haven’t heard back.

If you’re hoping to see this VERY SPECIAL version of Andy Smetanka’s Missoula film, I’m sorry to inform you it’s sold out. Which is too bad, because there’s a special Q&A and cocktail party after the viewing.

Maybe I’ll sneak in and get some footage of this exciting event because, in my humble opinion, a cultural gem like The Smetanka should NOT be hoarded for the select few–he should be LIVE STREAMED!

Thanks for reading…and for supporting those unique creators who sacrifice so much to give definition and meaning to this town.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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