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Helena on Display to Museums

They descended upon the town in two white vans, snapping photos and recording video. They marveled at stained-glass windows and period wall decor.

Board members from the Mountain-Plains Museums Association spent Friday touring various cultural landmarks in Helena in preparation for a regional museum conference in October expected to draw as many as 350 individuals from 10 states to Montana’s capital city, where they will infuse an estimated $160,000 into the local economy.

The Red Lion Colonial Hotel will serve as conference headquarters, but attendees will be bused around the community to visit historic and cultural sites. With the guidance of the Montana Historical Society, the MPMA members scouted out some of the options. Their agenda for the day included trips to the Capitol, Cathedral of St. Helena, Algeria Shrine Temple, Archie Bray Foundation, Holter Museum of Art, ExplorationWorks and Fort Harrison. They spent part of their morning touring the various amenities that make up the Montana Club, starting with the Rathskellar lounge in the basement — deemed a “man cave” by one member in the group — and moving up the stairs to peek into various other dining rooms and gathering spaces.

“I think it’s haunted,” said Mark Ryan of Fargo, N.D. “It’s got a spooky vibe to it.”

But despite the potential ghosts, he said Helena has a lot to offer. Monta Lee Dakin, executive director of the MPMA, seems to agree. She took a trip to the city after the local museum community urged her to check it out.

She said the conference, “Currents of Convergence: Making Connections in Big Sky Country,” is a way to showcase the state as well as the city. She knows of individuals who are planning to visit Yellowstone and Glacier or go hiking in nearby wilderness while they’re in town.

The board’s early trip to the town is a way to generate interest in the area, she said, with the members going back to their own cities and museums to “talk it up.”

The Mountain-Plains Museum Association represents Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The fall conference will feature keynote speakers and presentations from people representing all those areas, as well as other parts of the country.

Anyone in Montana who works, volunteers or has an interest in museums or the arts can attend the event, scheduled for Oct. 17-21.

Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or

Originally posted at The Helena Independent Record.