Bozeman’s Echo Arts delivers contemporary art that challenges regional norms
The fact that Echo Arts opened its doors just as Montana begins to lift quarantine restrictions is just the start of the gallery owners’ boldness. Just wait until you hear about their art.
Echo Arts is downtown Bozeman’s newest gallery. But owners Greta Hagg and Sahra Beaupré want it to stretch the boundaries of a typical gallery. They offer art advising, where the duo helps buyers select, acquire and place exceptional original artwork, by connecting them with unique artists. They also rent out the space, for those looking for a unique setting for a cocktail party or a fundraiser.
“So many people who haven’t grown up in galleries feel slightly uncomfortable when they walk into most galleries,” Beaupré said. “We want this to be a gathering place. A space where people can enjoy art that makes those human interactions more vibrant.”
The gallery’s vibe mirrors that desire. Tall ceilings, white walls, clean lines, and furniture that’s modern but comfy. Tall tables beg visitors to gather and enjoy conversation while taking in the surrounding artwork.
A town ready to welcome contemporary art
Among many driving factors to open Echo Arts in Bozeman, a 50,000-resident town not far from the entrance of Yellowstone National Park, was a desire to showcase contemporary art.
Hagg grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she was surrounded by contemporary work. For five years, she managed another Bozeman gallery, Sun Dog Fine Art, that was focused on western-style artwork. “It was incredibly beautiful work. But I always dreamed about introducing more contemporary work.”
Beaupré said Bozeman is ripe for an art resurgence that ushers in contemporary work. “Art in western states has been so focused in their cultural roots. But now, this area is becoming more of a market place. People are actually coming here to do business, to build a lifestyle,” she said.
“You’ll see tracts of farmland right next to a subdivision. These two worlds are merging and I think that’s where contemporary art sneaks in. There’s a dialogue that happens when one cultural thing is moving out to make way for something else, and artists express that in their work.”
An ad hoc beginning
Hagg and Beaupré met in 2008, just as Beaupré was looking for a creative outlet a year after having her son.
As Beaupré put it, the two had an immediate connection, with a “harmonious personality and vision.”
Their artistic journeys are different but both led them to Bozeman.
Hagg, who holds a BFA from the University of Minnesota, has worn many art hats over the years. She has experience working as an artist, curator, gallery director, advisor, and museum coordinator.
Beaupré graduated from the University of Virginia in 2004 with a degree in Fine Art and Psychology. Her postgraduate years were spent teaching, making art, and helping her husband build a business in the outfitting and hospitality industries.
Shortly after meeting, the creative duo started putting on pop-up art events. These roving shows invited people to experience art in various environments, from an abandoned mill to an old school bus. Their first event, in a run-down warehouse, featured the work of 10 artists and 30-plus pieces.
“We barely spent any money in advertising, and through word of mouth, we got flooded with people buying tickets,” Hagg said.
More than 100 people attended. So they pulled out all the stops for a second pop-up event, with dance performances and work from regional and local artists. And it was an even bigger hit, with more than 300 people attending.
“The pop-up events were really well received…But to put on a production and take it down after one night, it was a lot of work,” Beaupré said.
“And we wanted artists’ work to stay up longer for more opportunity for sales,” Hagg added.
So they pooled their resources and found just the right space to fulfill their vision for a gallery and a rental space, at 802 N. Wallace Ave in Bozeman.
More than a hobby
The plan was to open Echo Arts in early 2020, but construction delays and then the shutdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic pushed back the opening.
“We actually had a grand opening scheduled almost to the day that the shelter in place order happened,” Beaupré said.
They finally opened Echo Arts’ doors May 18. “We’re not opening with a big party like we’d hoped, but people are very excited and there’s quite a bit of hype around it,” Hagg said. “So we feel it will be successful, just might be delayed.”
Hagg and Beaupré are hopeful that their gallery concept and business model will be well received in Bozeman, which boasts a healthy art scene with about 10 galleries. For the two gallery owners, Echo Arts isn’t a frivolous side gig. It’s their livelihood and a place to elevate other artists’ livelihood.
“This is definitely a working gallery, that’s thinking of different revenue streams to sustain the gallery itself,” Beaupré said. “If we can ride out this strange time, I think it will be successful.”
“We hope to present a well-rounded mix of local, regional, national and international artists,” Hagg. “We want to showcase a smattering of unique art that hasn’t been seen in this area.”
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Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.