Backus Community Center

Minnesota jazz guitarist Sam Miltich was recently awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Tour grant for his proposal entitled, “The Improvised Life: Exploring Intersections of Mental Health & Creativity through Jazz,” a press release announced last week.

The program will highlight cultural contributions of famous artists with mental illness and inspire hope through Miltich’s own story and original compositions. In five communities throughout Minnesota, the tour will present a free daytime program at a community mental health center and a ticketed evening performance at a performing arts center.

The program will be presented by Backus Community Center at 7 p.m. Friday. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at City Drug, Betty’s in Fort Frances, J&D Foods in Littlefork and the Backus office. Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 18. Kids age 5 and under are free. The doors for the show will open at 6:30 p.m.

Miltich’s dialogue will explore intersections of mental health and the creative process and his pursuit of well-being amidst the daily challenges of living with a serious mental illness. He will describe his definition of recovery and the sense of purpose he cultivates through quality engagement in career and family life, said the release. The tour expands exposure to jazz in rural communities and increases awareness of the issues faced by a vulnerable population. This program will explore Miltich’s own experience with schizophrenia plus that of other accomplished musicians who achieved great personal and professional success while living with mental illness.

The project is closely related to Miltich’s personal artistic mission. He experienced his first major psychotic break at 22 and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Already a working jazz musician at the time, he connected with the music of jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk and has continued to use Monk’s music as part of his recovery. After reading a biography that went into great detail about Monk’s own struggles with mental illness concurrent with his deep dedication to his art and family, Miltich was inspired to share that story with a wider audience.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to not only play music, but use my art as a tool for social justice,” he said. “It is my hope that this project can help create awareness around mental illness and reduce stigma to, in turn, help people receive the care they deserve.”

A long-time fixture on the Minnesota jazz scene, Miltich plays regularly at venues throughout the state and has been featured on TPT’s “Minnesota Original” and NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” For this project, Miltich will tour with bassist Chris Bates, tenor saxophonist Dave Karr, and drummer Nathan Norman who are some of the most active and high caliber jazz musicians currently working in the state of Minnesota, said the release.

The grant is thanks primarily to the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund established as part of the Nov. 2008 clean water, land, and legacy amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. The Arts Tour program is specifically aimed at connecting high caliber artists and artistic works with audiences outside the artist’s home region. The program also encourages education and outreach activities that cultivate broader or deeper connections between artists and audiences.

For more information visit, contact Backus Community Center, 900 5th Street, International Falls, (218) 285-7225 or go online to

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