The strumming and singing of Aaron Broxertman penetrated the sound of every other act at the University of Montana’s Oval. Equipped with just an acoustic brown acoustic guitar plugged into an amp, he sang bluegrass, rock or whatever the crowd asked. 

“It is always nice to be playing, especially when there's people around,” Broxertman. “You can play in your garage all you want, but it's really not the same when you can see other people singing along or dance along with it.”

People dressed as birds, buskers playing folk songs and a circus of unique performance artists set up shop as a part of the UM Living Arts Festival Sunday afternoon. The festival, in its inaugural event, collaborated with the UM Circus Club, the Theatre Costume and Design department and Missoula area performers to perform roughly three hours of continuous live art.

“I think that this kind of hit a nice sweet spot,” said organizer Hila Tzipora.  “A lot of people are just really happy to have the performance background because they've had a whole year of no shows.”

Around 15 acts performed for hundreds of people that meandered around the socially distanced venue. To ensure the audience followed safety measures, Tzipora separated the festival into four different corners of the oval. Each performance group was sealed off from the viewers with a barrier of tape. 

Near the UC, two women wore early 20th century summer dresses made completely out of pink and yellow plastic bags. Part of Kenna Karjala’s senior project, each dress took over 200 hours to make. Each section was precisely dyed and closely sewn together.

“These are shockingly comfortable,” said Claire Peterson, one of the models in a light purple colored dress. “And if it rains we'd be up for that.”

The clouds avoided the oval for most of the day, giving everyone near-perfect conditions to perform. Next to the Payne Native American Center, dancers from the circus club athletically balanced on an Aerial silk, weaving through the fabric. The club came with the most performers, with at least half a dozen tossing colored juggling clubs and slicing through the air.

A dance trio from UM did a silent routine with a mat and UM’s firepit furniture for props. The paint splattered group wrote a message on a sign at the front. It read “Can COVID be the spark that shows us how our own warmth can allow for true neurodiversity, where isolation is a symptom of society, not disability.”

Originally, five UM groups planned to perform at the event, but scheduling conflicts caused some performers to cancel. Tzipora opted to open up the event to the general public, and more surprise performers joined in as the day approached.

“There is not a lot of busking here, you mostly just see that guy who plays metal guitar on Higgins,” she said. Tzipora invited the Missoula stand-up community, and several showed up.

In a gold spray painted cowboy costume — including jeans, jacket and hat — Jared Broxertman held his stiff, statuesque form while sitting on a stump near Jeanette Rankin hall. Statues normally don’t talk or move much, but Jared broke character for a quick interview with the Kaimin.

“Me and my brother saw these living statues when we were kids up in Canada. I was always intrigued,” the painted metal man said. “So last year, I decided to throw it all together. [It] turned out pretty well.”

His brother, Aaron, the guitar player across the oval, both had a couple days to prepare for the event. For the metal man, numerous cans of paint helped to seal the deal.

While some acts did not interact with the audience, others thrived off of it. Drag queen Vanilla Waiffer was just the opposite. At her booth near the Davidson Honors College, she spun a wheel to see which song out of the nine she would perform.

“Usually I like to plan things, and this was very, very spur of the moment,” Waiffer said. “But I am loving every minute of it.” 

The last time Waiffer did a drag show was in February 2020, but this week she got in contact with Tzipora to do a show. She lip synced her favorite songs, like “Toxic” by Brittney Spears, picking up props as she went. 

As the evening slowed down, the orange and green boundary tapes came off cones that rounded off the acts. Tzipora set them up the evening before, coming back in the morning to finish setting up.

“Putting the work in means you can have nice things like this, but not put your community in harm for COVID,” Tzipora said. “'Missoula is a small city, but i'm happy because today turned out [well].”