By Joseph T. O’Connor ExploreBigSky.com Editor

BIG SKY – The Warren Miller Performing Arts Center is expected to be complete by the end of February, thanks to recent efforts to push the process along.

On Feb. 11, Montana’s Office of Tourism announced plans to give WMPAC a $25,000 e-marketing grant to enhance its online presence. The arts center was among nine programs statewide chosen to receive a portion of $150,000, awarded through MTOT’s Tourism E-Marketing Technology Grant Program.

Later that same day, Grammy-nominated bluegrass band Special Consensus played a WMPAC fundraiser at Big Sky Resort’s Big Grass Festival. The show raised about $2,000 and will help finish work on the 280-seat theater.

Special Consensus, nominated the previous night for Bluegrass Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in LA, took the Talus Room stage at the Big Sky Big Grass Festival.

“We left LA at 6 a.m. and got into Bozeman around 11:30 [a.m.],” said David Thomas, the band’s bassist from Nashville, Tenn.

Proceeds from the show will go toward finishing the elevator, carpeting and painting, according to Lone Peak School District Superintendent Jerry House.

“I have no doubt the [WMPAC] will be done in February,” said House, working closely with construction company Martel to monitor the project.

John Zirkle, artistic director for WMPAC who moved from Knoxville, Tenn. in 2009, missed the Special Consensus show to attend the town hall meeting that same night, but was thrilled for the news of the MTOT grant.

“Almost every dollar [raised so far] has gone to brick and mortar,” Zirkle said. “This [e-marketing grant] enables us to reach out to people beyond the community. To be recognized at the state level is huge.”

The center plans to use the grant money to develop high-definition promotional video material, and to develop its website, as well as to foster community relationships.

“We can [now] work with companies in the region to develop a brand and a specified marketing campaign,” he said, adding that WMPAC will be ready on March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day, for the center’s first show, a fundraiser for Big Sky Broadway called “Big Sky’s Got Talent.”

On March 29, the Big Sky Community Theater, a new community troupe, will hold its inaugural performance, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

The arts center, which adjoins Ophir and Lone Peak High School, will have multiple functions, operating as an assembly area for students during the day and as a community entertainment venue in the evenings.

“This can only be positive for the Big Sky economy,” Zirkle said.

For more information on the Big Sky Community Theater, call Katie Alvin at (406) 581-3470. For information about “Big Sky’s Got Talent,” contact Barbara Rowley at browler@3rivers.net.

Special Consensus rocks Ophir

Special Consensus was nominated at the 2013 Grammy Awards for Bluegrass Album of the Year on Feb. 10 at the Staples Center in LA.

At 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, they plugged in at a smaller venue – center court in the Lone Peak High School gymnasium – and put together an impromptu yet rousing performance for Ophir students and faculty.

The band, who fell short of the award at the Grammy’s, packed the gym, encouraging fans to clap along and quizzing students on bluegrass music and instrument history.

“This is from Italy,” announced lead singer and mandolin player Rick Faris, holding up his instrument. “It was originally strung with spaghetti.”

Special Consensus made an hour and a half pit stop at the school en route to their WMPAC fundraiser at Big Sky Resort’s Talus Room later that evening.