There’s nothing quite that mini about the Mini Show anymore, even though there are some small pieces among the 81 works, whose creators range in experience from school-age to an art professor emeritus.

“One of the things that is great about the Mini Show is that you have some well-known, heavy-hitting artists, and then you have some brand new up-and-coming artists,” said Kia Liszak, the executive director of the nonprofit Zootown Arts Community Center.

The heavy hitters include prints by James Todd, the retired University of Montana art emeritus professor. Another well-known Missoula artist and retired UM faculty member, Beth Lo, donated a set of cups decorated with swimming children that will likely incite some serious competition.

The Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center will encompass four acres at the county-owned fairgrounds along South Avenue. The facility will include 29,000 square feet of indoor space with a conservatory that will be home to free-flying butterflies and tropical plants. There will also be an insectarium with live insects, interactive exhibits and a 2.5-acre outdoor education garden featuring native plants, flowers, vegetables, fruits, herbs and trees.

There are no size restrictions anymore for the annual auction, although many artists donated smaller pieces.

“As an arts community center, our auction also demonstrates a large variety of different types of work,” Liszak said.

Carson Ellis, a University of Montana alum, donated one of her illustrations for her children’s book “Under Wildwood,” a collaboration with her partner, Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. Monte Dolack donated a print block from 1971, depicting a fairy playing a lute. Theo Ellsworth donated a characteristically mind-bending illustration on wood — a creature with an intensely patterned button-up shirt and a head of blue, blooming flowers. (Ellsworth, a Missoula resident, has created album art for producer Flying Lotus, and has an upcoming collaboration, “Secret Life,” with Jeff VanderMeer, author of the “Southern Reach” trilogy.)

Emerging local artists are represented, too, including Ashley Meyora (abstract encaustic); April Werle (whose semi-abstract work is inspired by Montana’s landscape and her Filipino heritage); and Stella Nall’s imaginary creatures that draw on her Crow heritage.

“There’s something for everybody, which is really one of the things we like,” said Patricia Thornton, the gallery director and a printmaker.

The animals and outdoors touch on the “Flora and Fauna,” theme in the show, which is open for online bidding through May 22, the night of the sold-out in-person outdoor event at Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery. (See information box.)

A year later

The show bookends a difficult chapter for the nonprofit — it was the first big event in Missoula that had to pivot to online, and it’s the first large one to return to a live (outdoor) setting.

“Not that the pandemic is over, but things are changing,” Liszak said. They are seeing more foot traffic and holding old-fashioned planning meetings.

“It’s been a really challenging year for us,” Liszak said. Their new, renovated building opened in October 2019 and “we're just hitting our stride,” she said. During First Friday in March, they saw about a thousand people through the door. Then COVID hit mid-month and they had to “rethink everything,” she said.

Liszak remembers running home to teach herself to use Zoom so they could hold the Mini Show auction online — staff members shared pieces from their homes. It paid off, raising $50,000.

They were able to reopen fairly quickly and created new programs like an Artist Relief Fund, the weekly Social Distance Sessions, and an art academy for kids and families.

However, those were not revenue-generating activities. “We’ve been able to hang in there, but we’re looking forward to getting back on our feet,” she said.

This year, they postponed the Mini Show until May so they could hold it outside. Normally, it’s held in the Wilma and sells out quickly. Tickets for this year’s event at Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery were all snapped up in a few weeks.

“People were so excited to have an actual, real event,” she said.