Some 40 years ago, entrepreneurs and philanthropists Cathy and Peter Halstead visited Storm King Art Center in New York’s Hudson Valley. “I think there were two other people there,” recalls Cathy of their summer day at the sweeping, sculpture-filled, 500-acre destination, founded in 1960 and set against the hills about 60 miles north of New York City. Peter adds, laughing, “We ran through the sprinklers like kids.”
It wasn’t just a frolic—they discovered the pleasures of seeing art in a spectacular natural setting. “We had never seen a Mark di Suvero, and we completely fell in love,” says Peter. The image stuck.
This summer, the Halsteads are debuting their own di Suvero piece—two of them, actually—at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Fishtail, Montana, which opens this month and aims to reshape the cultural landscape of the Mountain West.
Tippet Rise will be both a performance venue for classical music and an outdoor art center, and the scale is truly Big Sky-worthy: It sits on a working ranch of 11,500 acres, making Storm King, which Cathy calls “our deepest inspiration,” seem like a postage stamp by comparison.
“The landscape is integral to everything we do,” says Cathy, who worked with her husband to piece together the property by buying many different contiguous ranches. They spend much of their time at their home about 20 minutes away, when they are not in Hawaii. “We wanted a place with no neighbors,” says Peter, and he certainly got it.
These ambitions are possible in part because Cathy is the daughter of Sidney Frank, the liquor entrepreneur who famously created the Grey Goose Vodka brand and then sold it for more than $2 billion. She served as president and chairman of the company, and the Halsteads are trustees of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, which makes over 90 grants annually to places like the Guggenheim Museum, the Juilliard School, San Francisco Symphony and many other arts groups.
But they both are artists, too, which helps explain the deeply held feelings they both have for the creative types they gathered in different ways to make Tippet Rise a reality.
Chief among those is Alban Bassuet, a renowned acoustician and venue planner who has crafted more than 250 music performance spaces and now serves as Tippet Rise’s director and lead on architecture planning and design.
“There are a great number of sculpture parks,” says the French-born Bassuet, who moved his wife and children to the wilds of Montana to be a part of the new venture. “And you have incredible music festivals, like Santa Fe and Tanglewood—but rarely are the two combined, and that’s what’s unique here. I call it the Park Avenue Armory of the West.”
Innovative architecture is part of the story at Tippet Rise, though it is made subservient to the spectacular surroundings of Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. The Halsteads and Bassuet commissioned a bunch of architectural proposals, “but all of them installed a hierarchy between the human habitat and nature,” Bassuet says. “We decided not to pursue those schemes. We wanted to rethink the meaning of architectural intervention on the land.”
So they collaborated with Arup, the cutting-edge engineering firm where Bassuet used to work, and local craftsmen Gunnstock Timber Frames to create two venues: the 150-seat, acoustically honed Olivier Barn and the 100-seat open air Tiara, a wooden acoustic shell. In both shape and material, they are meant to fit in snugly with the landscape, not to stand out.
The music programming is just as integrated into the totality of Tippet. John Luther Adams’ celebrated piece Inuksuit will be performed at Stephen Talasnik’s outdoor sculpture Satellite, and Spanish composer Antón García-Abril was commissioned to write Tippet Rise Songs, which will be performed at the concrete Domo structure.
“The music has grown up and out of the concert hall,” says Bassuet of the outdoor element and the generally expansive feeling of everything at Tippet. “And the art has grown out of the white box of the museum—it’s groundbreaking in many ways.”
Standouts among the artworks include the primitive-looking, quasi-architectural sculptures placed around Tippet by Ensamble Studio (Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa), including Beartooth Portal and Inverted Portal. They shelter, confront and engage visitors like the other elements of the Tippet experience.
The Halsteads worked closely with Montana officials to get the massive project off the ground—they won’t say how much they’ve spent, but it’s a lot—including convincing utility providers not to string unsightly power lines across the property.
The avant garde culture hub will certainly stand out in its context of wide-open spaces. “If we did this in New York, no one would notice,” jokes Peter, though Tippet’s scale, and the evident thoughtfulness of its implementation, ensures it would get attention just about anywhere.