with Shane Etzwiler, President of the Great Falls Area Chamber
There’s never a bad time to visit Great Falls. Year-round there are opportunities for recreation, shopping, dining, and entertainment. But every March is particularly special. A dash of magic is sprinkled into the community, as some of the best Western artists in the world gather for a weekend of celebration.
“The West is in our blood and in our culture,” says Shane Etzwiler, President of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. “Western Art Week brings in farmers, ranchers, artists, and people from all over the world to celebrate our heritage. It puts us on the map.”
That sentiment is not Etzwiler’s alone. Numerous celebrities, politicians, and national media have remarked upon Western Art Week’s enchantment. The C.M. Russell Auction, the event from which Western Art Week was born, was once compared to Woodstock by the Wall Street Journal, and in 1986, National Geographic dedicated a 36-page article to the phenomenon.
“At a time of year when tourism is typically slow, Western Art Week has a huge impact on our area,” explains Etzwiler.
Hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and more benefit from the influx of people to Great Falls. And the economic impact extends to other businesses in the region.
When Western Art Week was canceled in 2020 and 2021 amid concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Great Falls felt it.
“We don’t know what we have until we lose it,” says Etzwiler. He is optimistic that Western Art Week’s return after a two- year hiatus will renew everyone’s appreciation for the event. “Communities can get stuck in the status quo. We should look at this as an opportunity to try new things and grow Western Art Week for the future.”
One way that growth has already manifested is with a second, summer-showing of Western Art Week. This “Special Edition” provides a second chance for people that are unable to visit Great Falls in March.
“Great Falls has taken a great event and split it into two opportunities, allowing more people to experience the excitement,” says Etzwiler. “I’m looking forward to it!”