Russell Museum announces major gift, fundraising campaign

The C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls has raised more than $17.2 million toward it’s $25 million goal for it’s Art and Soul campaign, including a $2.5 million gift from Ian and Nancy Davidson.

The museum’s goal is to reach a $20 million endowment that will ease the museum’s reliance on operating revenue from its annual art auction, The Russell, which can be affected by fluctuating art markets, economic impacts, and, most recently, a global pandemic.

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The Art & Soul Campaign steering committee, made up of museum supporters from the local community and across the country, has been quietly fundraising since late 2017, according to museum release.

The Davidson donation is the largest cash gift in the museum’s history, according to the museum.

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“The C.M. Russell Museum is a very important part of Great Falls and a treasure for the entire country,” Ian Davidson said in a release. “When you are born and raised here, you realize how lucky you are to be surrounded by Russell’s art and the American West he captured.”

“We love Charlie Russell, his honesty and authenticity as an artist and as a person. It is a real joy for us to help build the museum’s endowment to enshrine his legacy for our community, for Montana, and for people around the world,” Nancy Davidson said in the release.

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The campaign secures annual operating funds and expands the museum’s permanent collection, funds new exhibitions and education programs, and lays the groundwork for building and gallery improvements as well as expansion of the museum complex, according to a release.

In April, the City Commission approved requests from the Russell Museum for rezoning some parcels, vacating 5th Street North between 12th and 13th Streets and aggregating parcels, actions in preparation of the museum’s larger future expansion plans.

“We have been blown away by the generosity of donors, who are passionate about preserving the legacy of Charlie Russell, committed to making sure the museum has a lasting home in Great Falls, and invested in growing this institution as one of the finest Western art museums in North America,” campaign co-chair Gene Thayer said in a release. “We look forward to celebrating many other gifts as we roll out the campaign.”

“The C.M. Russell Museum Complex is located on the grounds of the artist’s original home and log cabin studio. Russell lived in Montana from the time he was 16 and was known as a consummate Westerner, historian, advocate of the Northern Plains Indians, cowboy, writer, outdoorsman, conservationist, and not least, artist. In his vast body of work, including oils, watercolors, drawings, and sculptures as well as personal letters, he captured the changing West at the turn of the last century. His work has long been lauded for its authenticity, commentary on the time, and humor. His wife Nancy is credited for her business prowess in elevating Russell to international acclaim,” according to the museum release.

“Russell’s legendary artwork and the masterfully restored spaces where he and Nancy lived and worked are a national gem,” said Tom Figarelle, C.M. Russell Museum executive director. “As we grow our institution in size and stature, we will forever honor the art and soul of Russell and the values of the American West he embodied.”

To reach its $25 million goal by 2022, the museum is accepting cash gifts, art acquisitions, planned giving, and bequests. Supporters can visit to learn more about Russell’s legacy, the campaign and giving areas.