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The background of this story hints at a growing feeling I've had in the last several months: if I was a young, impoverished, aspiring artist, I would move to Butte.

It's hard for longer-term Montanans to accept. Butte has long been the tough industrial precinct of the state, like a wayward if happy-go-lucky schoolmate, prompting good humor but not necessarily envy. Missoula -- and to a lesser extent Livingston -- have been the art colonies. Those two towns attracted artists because 20 years ago they were places with a low cost of living and a high degree of architectural and community character. But these days those qualities apply to Butte, while Missoula and Livingston (and several other Montana locales) are too expensive for the starving-artist type.

Evidence is in the art produced -- and it was on great display at the gala Thursday event at September's Montana Festival of the Book. During that lengthy evening, dozens of literary types stood up to rhapsodize about Butte -- and there was so much going on that organizers didn't have to call on Paul Zarzyski for his legendary poem "Why I Like Butte."

Today plenty of others like it just as well.

I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks dot com

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