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How Montana's Tippet Rise showcases artistic achievement amid natural beauty


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Let's now take a trek to a destination for art and music in rural Montana.

The Tippet Rise Art Center, which recently wrapped up its fourth summer season, is home to stunning sculptures, architecture, classical music, all surrounded by wonders of nature. Its visitors are a mix of locals and art lovers from around the world.

Jeffrey Brown has that story.

It's part of our ongoing arts and culture coverage, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: Underneath a wooden pavilion, a violinist draws her bow. Nearby, kids marvel at a sculpture called Daydreams, where willows twist around an old schoolhouse. And all around, hikers and bikers follow miles of trails.

This is the Tippet Rise Art Center, unexpected, hard to find. From tiny Fishtail in Southern Montana, a dirt road cuts through the hillside, passing ranches and farmland, the Beartooth Mountains in the distance.

It's just 4 years old, but Tippet Rise is an ongoing experiment in bringing together nature and art, a place where the world-class sculptures and the music become part of a spectacular rural setting.

The center was founded by philanthropists Cathy and Peter Halstead, globe-trotting art lovers who searched high and low for a property that felt just right.

Peter Halstead: We love museums. We have spent our life going to museums. But art is, in some ways, a prisoner of a museum, whereas, here, it's liberated. It's freed.

Cathy Halstead: The land is very emotional, and there is something about being on this land. The first second I was on it, I could feel it viscerally, and really had a sense that it was almost like a trembling.

Jeffrey Brown: The art center they have created is on a 12,000-acre working ranch. It's home to large outdoor sculptures, including Satellite #5: Pioneer, a web of yellow cedar and steel created by Stephen Talasnik.

Beethoven's Quartet, a 25,000-pound piece by Mark di Suvero, and works by the Ensamble Studio, Inverted Portal and Beartooth Portal, featuring giant formations leaning against one another, and Domo, which was designed acoustically to host outdoor concerts.

But most of the music is performed here at the Olivier Music Barn, with a high pitched roof and windows that overlook the Beartooths.

On this day, pianist Aristo Sham played works by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Originally from Hong Kong, Sham has performed on five continents.

Is this normal as a setting, or unusual for you?

Aristo Sham: This is quite unusual. Even summer festivals in ski resorts are more urban.

Jeffrey Brown: Right.

Aristo Sham: Yes. And for this to be like literally in the middle of nowhere is quite unique. It's like, where do you even find an audience? But everything is sold out.

Jeffrey Brown: In fact, seating here is so limited, just 150 for a concert, and the price of a ticket so low, just $10, that demand quickly outstripped availability.

Determined to stay small-scale, the center now doles out tickets through a lottery system. It's part of the paradox of Tippet Rise, offering a sense of exclusiveness, but being open to all, a destination for well-off art patrons from around the world, while also welcoming in locals.

Peter Halstead: It's the opposite of elitism. It's -- really, it's open to all who are clever enough or lucky enough to somehow get a ticket to our performances.

Beth Korth: We had a student, it was his very first time at Tippet Rise. And he just said: "Wow. Am I in Montana anymore?"


Jeffrey Brown: Beth Korth is the art education coordinator at Tippet Rise. The center hosts youth groups ranging from college honors students to elementary age children, such as this group from rural Carbon County, who toured the sculptures, got an up-close look at instruments, and made their own lanterns out of jars.

Clara Bernhart is from nearby Red Lodge.

Did you like coming here?

Clara Bernhart: Yes, I liked all the music.

Jeffrey Brown: You liked the music?

Clara Bernhart: The piano -- the piano, and the fort in the houses, that was super cool.

Beth Korth: Having a world class art center with these incredible sculptures from world-renowned artists, bringing in incredible classical musicians, having some structures here built by some of the most incredible architects I know, being able to bring in rural children to come and experience this, even for a couple of hours one day out of the summer, I think is tremendous to this community.

John Luther Adams: The music is not completed until it's received by you.

Jeffrey Brown: That same weekend, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams debuted a new work, "Lines Made By Walking," performed by the JACK string quartet.

He composed much of the piece, a commission from Tippet, while in residence here last summer, inspired, he said, by long walks on the grounds.

John Luther Adams: In recent years, I have been making music intended from the get-go to be experienced out of doors. And I have come to understand, especially those outdoor works, as a kind of echolocation or GPS, a way of -- music as a way of helping us hear and feel more deeply, and more broadly where we are on this earth.

So it's my hope that somebody from a ranch nearby may come and hear this lyrical response to these hills, to this land that is their home, and go back out and hear it and see it a little differently.

Jeffrey Brown: Jim Mandeville, from Columbus, Montana, is one local who heard the call.

Jim Mandeville: The tickets are hard to get, so it's kind of like it's exclusive, but it's not exclusive.

Jeffrey Brown: Of the out-of-towners, he says this:

Jim Mandeville: If they're from California, and they get into the lottery, like everyone else has to get, and get their tickets and plan their vacation around coming to Tippet Rise, I think that's marvelous. It brings them into our country. And they get to see it, enjoy it, and then go home.


Jeffrey Brown: And for those who can't or won't make the trek here, state-of-the-art recordings of the concerts, free online, offer easier access.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Fishtail, Montana.

Judy Woodruff: Jeffrey Brown gets to go to all the best places. We are so envious.

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