Linda Ewert, who'll retire from her post as education director at the Yellowstone Art Museum on Jan. 1, is a champion of the arts, but she's also an advocate for marginalized people.
Robyn Peterson, executive director at the YAM, calculates that Ewert worked with a quarter of a million children at the YAM. But Ewert didn’t just help students use art to find their voices.
“She eagerly took on oversight of new programs that allow us to serve some of the most challenged individuals in our community, including the most poverty-stricken children, dementia patients and nursing home residents, individuals transitioning back into society under the care of social workers, inmates at the Montana Women’s Prison and hospitalized children,” Peterson said.
More than 100 colleagues past and present, and friends of Ewert turned out recently at Hilands Golf Course to celebrate Ewert’s contributions to art and education.
Some told silly stories about Ewert’s nicknames for people in the education department. And, former YAM art educator Carol Welch led a “Linda” cheer in the YAM tradition of forming each letter with their hands.
“I’ll always feel indebted to Linda for giving me a chance,” Welch said.
That phrase was repeated by colleagues and artists alike when talking about Ewert's work.
Longtime Montana State University Billings art professor John Pollock had Ewert as an art student and then ended up getting a career boost from her at the museum.
“Linda commissioned me to do some kites for her to sell in the gift shop. I’m thankful to Linda for doing that. Now, I am the four-time national champion kite maker,” Pollock said.
Ewert spent 17 years as the YAM’s education director and four years as a paid staff member, but Ewert’s work at the YAM began 30 years ago as a volunteer.
In recognition of Ewert's efforts, the Linda and Wayne Ewert Art for Every Child Endowment Fund has been established to support art education at the YAM. The museum also plans a free day on Feb. 4 in her honor.
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Ewert said she leaves behind a group of talented and dedicated professionals.
“They will provide a new pathway to the future, championing new ideas and ways of understanding, problem solving the constant through ever-changing questions we all face and bringing solutions I never even imagined,” Ewert said.
Ewert grew up in Kansas as part of a family that earned its living from the land. She didn’t grow up with framed original paintings on the wall. But when she showed one of her early drawings to her father, he understood her need to make art and offered to help her any way he could.
“Art empowers us, from children to adults. It doesn’t matter how hard your life is, art is something that is important. It’s the art that helps us to come forward as human beings,” Ewert said.
She was a strong advocate of the idea that art is for everyone, and she worked to make the museum accessible to all.
“The kids know who the museum belongs to; it belongs to them,” Ewert said.
Part of Ewert’s job at the YAM was recruiting and working with docents. Longtime docent Bob Rickels, who worked with Ewert from 1999 to 2013, credits her understanding of others as one of her greatest strengths.
“She has a wonderful spirit, a democratic approach to people. She makes us feel like we belong,” Rickels said.
Ewert is known for her passion, and Welsh said she's a crier. It’s rare when Ewert doesn’t cry at the annual Art Auction as patrons bid thousands of dollars to fund the education program.
Welsh said Ewert even cried when she landed a grant to help fund an outreach education program. Ewert gave and gave and never failed to stand up for her staff, Welsh said.