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A VOICE organization receives $100,000 grant

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PABLO — Local organization A VOICE - Art Vision and Outreach In Community Education - has just received the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) American Rescue Plan Grant to expand their community programs.

Offered online by the NEA in December for organizations around the country, the grant is unique in that it allows nonprofits to use the funds for administrative means, helping to both keep the doors open and expand what they can offer.

One of only five recipients in the state, A VOICE will receive $100,000 over the course of two years.

Director and co-founder David Spear said that, due to their organization’s size, support of this type is rare and very welcome. “It’s a considerable amount of money for us, and it’s also kind of new territory,” he stated.

David and his wife and co-founder Jill have been doing outreach work for decades to help communities embrace their creativity through art and photography, but decided to bring their skills to Montana after a few years together in New York.

“Jill is from Polson. The fact that we’ve been invited in and have been able to share things that we’re adept at ... to help people express themselves visually ... it’s an honor,” Spear said. “We’re honored to be able to be a part of the community. We feel excited to be able to bring something to this place that’s originally Jill’s home.” 

The couple began their work in the Flathead Nation in 2002 when they began the Our Community Record (OCR) project at Two Eagle River School. OCR just celebrated its 20th anniversary back in January. 

When they founded A VOICE in 2006, it was with the mission to, according to the website, provide young people with the tools to become expressive art makers, moving storytellers and engaged citizens.

“Our hope is that we can instill something that will last for someone’s lifetime,” Spear stated. The diversity of the art created by the young people they work with is something he marvels at. “It’s pretty amazing to see. The way they would photograph is much different than the way I would photograph. I’ve been in a pretty privileged position to get to see it all,” he said.

With the new funds provided by the grant, the organization will have the opportunity to hire more people, create internships, and put together more programs to serve the local community. “We’ve got some ideas for new programming; our board is really excited about this.”

This fall, they plan to hold a celebration and put together a publication of projects from the last two decades to pass on to the community. 

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