GMF Testifies in Support of New Montana Heritage Center

GMF Grants Additional $25,000 to Original $600,000, for New Center

Testimony of William Whitsitt, Chairman, Greater Montana Foundation, in support of HB 14 before the Long Range Planning Subcommittee, 65th Legislative Assembly, Helena, Friday, Jan 27, 2017

Distinguished committee members, I am Bill Whitsitt from Bigfork. I am Chairman of the Greater Montana Foundation.

I am here today representing the trustees of the Greater Montana Foundation in support of House Bill 14, Jobs for Montana — and to specifically request your strong endorsement for the new Montana Heritage Center included in the bill.

Established in 1958 by Montana broadcasting pioneer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur Ed Craney, the GMF has a clear vision and mission — to encourage communication on issues, trends and values of importance to present and future generations of Montanans. We emphasize electronic communication but make a broad range of grants. Today and through the entire legislative session, for example, we’re funding University of Montana Journalism students working here in the Capitol to provide professional legislative reports to radio stations across the state. And we expect to fund a statewide debate among nominees for our soon-to-be-vacant congressional seat.

A key element of fulfilling our mission is helping to ensure the understanding, preserving and sharing of our Montana history and culture upon which all of us can build for the future. The Montana Historical Society is, of course, at the heart of that preservation and sharing.

The Greater Montana Foundation appreciates a strong on-going partnership with the Montana Historical Society. As evidence of our belief in the necessity of the new Montana Heritage Center, GMF has provided $600,000 — its largest grant for a specific project — for the urgently-needed new facility.

To highlight our continued commitment, I am announcing to you today that our board has just awarded an additional $25,000 grant for the Montana Heritage Center .

We encourage – indeed, challenge – other organizations and individuals who have not yet joined this effort to do so.

Some of our initial building grant has already been used for state-of-the art new technology for the current auditorium, (now known as the Craney Studio). We have worked with MHS to provide state-of-the-art video, interactive and computer based-programming. Most recently live streaming capabilities have been upgraded.

The auditorium also features Mr. Craney’s extensive art collection, donated to MHS by the Greater Montana Foundation.

All the latest technology will be transferrable to the new Legislative Activity Center/Craney Studio in the Montana Heritage Center facilities.

Over the years, GMF is proud to have awarded other grants of over $150,000 to the Montana Historical Society to help it fulfill its mission as we fulfill ours. We have partnered with MHS on restoration, digitization and preservation of Craney and GMF materials; the Montana Heritage Tour; promotion of rural museums; and, initiation and implementation of the Broadcast Film and Media Archives.

The Montana Heritage Center can be accomplished only through a genuine public-private partnership. It is a real investment in our future while providing tourism and other economic benefits as well. Those benefits were documented in a recent study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.

We will continue to encourage other organizations and individuals to join in these true public-private partnership efforts. But we cannot do what needs to be done alone.

At their cores, the Montana Historical Society and the needed Montana Heritage Center are responsibilities of the State of Montana. We can help – and we will continue to do so. But leadership and support of state government must be the foundation of our efforts.

Thank you for your support for HB 14 and the Montana Heritage Center.

And with your permission I would appreciate your making a memo on behalf of our Trustees from our Executive Director, Sidney Armstrong, a part of the hearing record.



Testimony for support of HB 14 by Norma Ashby, Great Falls, Jan. 27, 2017.

I am excited to be here today in support of the Montana Heritage Center project, the renovation and expansion of the Montana Historical Society, included in HB 14, Jobs for Montana, sponsored by Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte.

The work the Montana Historical Society has done to preserve the heritage of our State since 1865, is unprecedented.

As a fourth generation Montanan, I care deeply about passing on this heritage to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  A side note, my late husband Shirley Ashby’s grandfather’s bamboo fly rods are currently included in the current MHS exhibit “Hooked Fishing in Montana.”

One area I am personally committed to is donating many of the interview tapes I have saved from my 26 years as hostess and producer of the statewide “Today in Montana” TV show to the Montana Historical Society.  Among my favorites is my tape featuring interviews with seven first ladies of Montana, several who are no longer with us.

Through the support of a grant from the Greater Montana Foundation of which I am a board member, the Montana Historical Society will collect and preserve film and video and arrange for the transfer of many of these tapes to a format that will make them available to scholars and the public in the years to come.

In supporting HB 14, I would like to use the analogy of planting a tree seedling.  We may not live to enjoy the shade that tree will provide but future generations will.

Thank you for your serious consideration of the passage of HB 14 for the Montana Heritage Center.


Testimony of Sidney Armstrong, Executive Director, Greater Montana Foundation, in support of HB 14 printed and presented to the Long Range Planning Subcommittee, 65th Legislative Assembly, Helena

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Greater Montana Foundation, it is my pleasure to express our strong support for HB 14, specifically for the Montana Heritage Center, the renovation and expansion of the Montana Historical Society (MHS) facilities. We request and we urge your support. It is a critical project and will be greatly appreciated.

The Greater Montana Foundation has as its core mission encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to present and future generations of Montanans. A key element of fulfilling our mission is helping to ensure the understanding, preserving and sharing of our Montana history and culture upon which all of us can build for the future. The Montana Historical Society is, of course, at the heart of that preservation and sharing.

As evidence of our commitment to supporting the work of the MHS is the fact that we have contributed some $600,000 to the Montana Heritage Center that is necessary to house, preserve and share the many MHS collections in ways required now and in the digital future. This is the largest grant ever awarded in the more than fifty years of our existence. Last week,.the GMF Board voted to add another $25,000 to our original grant, to emphasize how essential the new and updated facilities are.

The Montana Heritage Center can be accomplished only through a genuine public- private partnership. This must include adequate state funding appropriated by the Montana Le’gislature, coupled with donations from the private sector- business, foundations, and individuals. This is a real investment in the future, for all aspects of preserving our Montana history and culture, while providing an economic benefit as well, as was documented in a recent study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.

Some of our original grant has already been put to work to provide major new technology in the current auditorium, providing the opportunity for MHS to produce and present state-of-the art video, interactive and computer-based programming and live- streaming. This includes the large TV screen in the lobby, which features various items as well, as broadcasting auditorium programs to over-flow crowds.

In addition, the collection of historic art and artifacts once belonging to our founder, Ed Craney, has been gifted to the MHS by the Greater Montana Foundation. It is on display in the auditorium, now called the Craney Studio. All this is transferrable to the new facilities .

Over the years, GMF is proud to have awarded other grants of over $150,000 to the Montana Historical Society to help it fulfill its mission as we fulfill ours. We are proud to be considered a partner with the MHS in a number of other projects, including the restoration, digitization and preservation of Craney and GMF materials; the Montana Heritage Tour; promotion of rural museums; and, initiation and implementation of the Broadcast Film and Media Archives.

We will continue to encourage other organizations and individuals to join in these true public-private partnership efforts. But we cannot do what needs to be done alone. At their cores, the Montana Historical Society and the needed Montana Heritage Center are responsibilities of the State of Montana. We can help – and we will continue to do so. But leadership and support of state government must be the foundation of our efforts.

Thank you for your support for HB 14 and the Montana Heritage Center.

Download a copy of this testimony here.