Patty Bergquist | A first-class exhibition

Retired MAGDA director launched more than 200 exhibits over three decades

Art Beat

Governor’s Arts Awards were given to four Montanans and Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild by Gov. Steve Bullock toward the end of his tenure.

Lively Times continues to profile the five recipients with Patty Bergquist, director of the Montana Art Gallery Directors Association.

For anyone who has viewed an art exhibit at a Montana museum in the past three decades, there’s a good chance Bergquist had a hand in it.

"I have always been in awe of those who create," writes Patty Bergquist. "They are my inspiration and have made it very easy to be a part of MAGDA, which has never been a job, but a joy."
“I have always been in awe of those who create,” writes Patty Bergquist. “They are my inspiration and have made it very easy to be a part of MAGDA, which has never been a job, but a joy.”

The Great Falls resident retires this year after 31 years as director of the Montana Art and Gallery Directors Association (MAGDA). She was nominated for the Governor’s Arts Award by artist and curator Ella Watson and MAGDA President Leann Pelvit, the administrative assistant at MonDak Heritage Center in Sidney.

“You probably have never heard of Patty and that is because, in a world full of those hoping to be art stars, she provided the sky,” writes Watson. “Not only that, she nurtured the fields where those who love art can leisurely sit and bask in their glow.”

Pelvit estimates that Bergquist’s efforts have launched nearly 220 traveling exhibitions and are responsible for well over 630,000 “individual life experiences with art.”

“She not only supports the galleries but also the artist,” writes Pelvit. “She is loved by all!”

Bergquist, a Montana native who grew up in Billings, took the reins of MAGDA in 1989 and has guided the organization with care, pluck and finesse ever since. On a slender budget and half-time salary, she manages 10-15 touring exhibits annually, a board of directors, and the organization’s finances. For much of her tenure, she also raised a family and held down a fulltime job as an office manager.

For MAGDA’s annual conference at Chico Hot Springs, she pulls together a dizzying array of logistics, including programming, guest speakers, and the block-booking of exhibits, all “in an atmosphere of congeniality, professional respect and academic rigor.”

She schedules speakers who cover advances in art preservation, ethical considerations, proper art-handling practices, as well as practical management and skill building. The gathering delivers top-notch professional development to the 29 member institutions, which in turn ensures that that Montana’s history and culture are preserved.

“At Chico, and under the comically avuncular and exasperated gaze of Patty, Montana gallerists have connected with others, sharing the burden and the joys of operating art spaces in Montana, thus creating a network of problem solvers and art advocates,” writes Watson.

In addition to art museums and galleries, the conference also attracts artists, arts organizations, art educators, and interested patrons. “It is an opportunity to come together and network, communicate, formulate ideas, and be exposed to some of the great art being made in our area,” writes Missoula artist Bev Beck Glueckert.

Beyond Bergquist’s myriad administrative duties, she also helped launch MAGDA Sponsored Exhibits, traveling displays that showcase talented regional artists and are inexpensive for smaller galleries and larger museums alike. “With all these exhibits in motion, she’s become an expert on shipping, handling and hanging artwork – and generously shares that knowledge,” writes Pelvit.

Bergquist is also praised as an important resource for galleries of all sizes, and an accomplished grant writer.

Over the years, as national funding for touring exhibits has steadily diminished and the organization’s very existence has been threatened, her commitment and steady hand have kept the organization afloat and helped its members adapt to challenging headwinds.

Tyler Egan, executive director of Schoolhouse History and Art Center in Colstrip, recalls reaching out to Bergquist often in the early days of his career, “whether it be for board, budget or my latest ‘crisis’ navigating a new field.”

She was always “calm, cool, and collected – attributes she has the ability to share with the people around her seemingly through pure osmosis.”

“Patty is a state treasure,” writes Lu Shomate, past president and longtime MAGDA board member. “She literally is a walking, talking, first-class exhibition.”

Q&A with Patty Bergquist

LT: How have Montana and its people shaped your life’s work?

Patty: I truly believe the people in Montana are the most open, giving, and caring people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. People in the arts, especially, know what it is to be committed to their passion. They work extremely hard for next to nothing and many times receive little or no remuneration, other than the thrill of seeing how they have touched anyone who has shared in their work.

While my background is in business, I have always been in awe of those who create. They are my inspiration and have made it very easy to be a part of MAGDA, which has never been a job, but a joy.

LT: It’s been a rough year for Montana artists and the venues and organizations that support their work. Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement to share?

Patty: My heart goes out to all of those people who work in the arts who have tried to keep their heads above water during this horrific year. One thing that MAGDA has taught me is that we are all connected, we support each other, and we can only continue to do so. I am extremely proud of those artists, venues, and supporting organizations who have risen above this bump in the road and have collaborated and come up with incredible virtual opportunities.