Why Isn’t Headwaters Foundation Doing More Than A Stupid Mural With Their 100 Million Dollars?

by Travis Mateer

When you’re sitting on a 100 million dollars from the sale of Community Medical Center, in a town struggling mightily to deal with its drug epidemic pretending to be a homeless crisis, I would think something more significant than “beautifying” an outdoor space could be accomplished.

Perhaps the reason Headwaters has commissioned a Billings mural artist to beautify a Missoula alleyway is because so many consequential things happen in these liminal spaces. On Saturday I joined the joyful throngs (with my covert pessimism consciously concealed) to document some of the more infamous alleys so you, dear readers, understand what I’m talking about.

This stretch of alleyway between Broadway and Main is where Jermain Charlo was last seen alive on security camera footage. The Badlander is to the left, while the structure on the right is the parking garage. This is also the alley where the “father” of the flower girl took his little money-maker last summer after I called 911.

Another alleyway of note is the spot where our current placeholder Mayor was selected in a late night marathon process that finally ended sometime after 2am. It might not look like a consequential location here in Zoom Town, but I guarantee you, it is.

I know what you’re thinking. These alleyways are in desperate need of some colorful mural art! It’s too bad we don’t have more “non-profits” with a 100 million dollars to bring art to EVERY alleyway in Zoom Town.

Now that we’ve taken a brief visual tour of infamous Missoula alleyways, let’s look at the Missoulian article to see how the publicity for Headwaters is being framed (emphasis mine):

A new public art installation, featuring imagery of Montana, is being painted onto the back of the Confluence Center building at 119 W. Main St.

The building serves as the headquarters for the nonprofit Headwaters Foundation, which hired Montana artist Rilie Tanè Zumbrennan to work on the mural during First Friday on July 7.

Early in the day, she was operating a boom lift to paint on the background colors and flowers, and she’ll be in town for several more days to complete the project.

“We wanted to choose an artist with a strong connection to our state,” said Ruth Crystal, facilities and administrative manager for Headwaters Foundation. “We are confident that the mural Rilie creates will make this an event better place for our neighbors to come together.

If the emphasized part of this quote reads weird, I think it’s because “event” should be “even”. Did Lee Enterprises do another round of layoffs targeting copy editors?

Anyway, the expectation is clearly that this mural will make things BETTER for Headwaters’ neighbors, like the Top Hat, which is owned by Nick Checota–which reminds me, I called Logjam Presents weeks ago about about the rumor going around that Checota is trying to find a buyer so he can go focus on the weed market full time, but I never heard anything back. I’ll have to keep digging on that one!

Well, let’s get a look at this alleyway getting the beatification treatment by Headwaters. Here it is as the artist’s team is setting up on a beautiful Saturday morning in Missoula:

Isn’t this exciting? But that’s not all. No, Headwaters is going to take up city staff time to pester them about MORE shit to make this alleyway more awesome. Because city staff don’t have better things to do. From the link:

“We’re working with the city right now, and the Missoula Downtown Association, to see if we can actually put in some planters, put in other kinds of decorations,” she said. “Eventually we’d like to have lighting in the alleyway and figure out if there’s some way, after business hours, to shut down the alleyway so that it becomes a walkway, and a destination where people can kind of hang out.”They installed electricity in their back patio so if someone wants to hold an event with food trucks and a stage for live music, it’s possible.

And, since this is a “non-profit”, the lovely space will be “helping” other non-profits. If fact, they already have! From the link (emphasis mine):

Headwaters remodeled its building as kind of a hub for nonprofits that don’t have enough of a dedicated space of their own. The building is now a user-friendly, multipurpose meeting space specifically catered to nonprofits. Since its opening, more than 50 events have been held at the Confluence Center. Local nonprofits like All Nations Health Center, Zero to Five, the Poverello Center and United Way have hosted networking events and gatherings. The space also served as the headquarters for the Western Montana Community Center volunteers during Missoula Pride.

I like how the examples emphasized makes it seem like Zero to Five and United Way are distinctly separate entities when, I am pretty sure, they are not. I don’t know if those details matter when an amazing influencer, like United Way ED, SHP, remains at the helm!

This is some pretty exciting stuff, and might put alleyways up there with bridges as critical infrastructure to keep my municipal eye on.

While this “non-profit” will be doing something nice for our community’s alley-system (which could help Nick Checota if he’s selling off is promotional assets), our healthcare system continues to be utterly deplorable and getting worse, as this headline from the Missoulian indicates–As psychiatric services decline, mentally ill patients are filling Montana’s ERs. From the link (emphasis mine):

“In Montana there’s outpatient care or inpatient care. There’s little in-between,” said Dr. Lisa Ponfick, president of the Montana Psychiatric Association and a practicing psychiatrist at Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena.

With nowhere else to go, severely mentally ill people are dropped into understaffed emergency departments where it’s difficult to access psychiatric care or have adequate supervision. Long wait times under fluorescent lights and a cacophony of sounds can exacerbate symptoms, putting patient and employee safety at risk. Last year, for example, a woman seeking treatment for suicidal ideation fired a gun inside Billings Clinic’s ED while she waited for treatment. Police officers on the scene eventually responded with gunfire.

Remember, the Headwaters Foundation was created by the sale of a PUBLIC hospital to private interests, so the money generated from that sale is actually supposed to go to help our community. I got a few ideas about what they could do with some of that loot, but for now, here are some links going back to 2018 for the context that local legacy media won’t give you about this foundation:

What Is The Headwaters Foundation And Why Does It Matter? (December 15, 2018)

On Taxes, Pilot Programs, And The Untapped Millions Held By The Headwaters Foundation (July 9th, 2023)

Who Is Behind The Headwaters Foundation And Where Did They Come From? (July 10th, 2020)

If you appreciate how I articulate what my municipal eyes are eyeing here in Zoom Town, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to support my work, while making a donation at my about page is another.

Thanks for reading!

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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1 Response to Why Isn’t Headwaters Foundation Doing More Than A Stupid Mural With Their 100 Million Dollars?

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