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Oh Boise (ID)!

Towards the end of last year, I gave a business of art lecture at Surel’s Place in Boise, ID, sponsored by the Idaho Arts Commission and American’s for the Arts’ National Arts Marketing Project. I’d never been to Boise and knew little about the city or state for that matter, other than I watched it turn red on election night. I joked with friends that I was probably going to be lecturing to the state’s only blue contingency, but that I’d still have to watch my blue Ps & Qs.

What I discovered was a wonderful city, a real “art town” filled with creative expression at every turn. Boise is a beautiful town steeped in a healthy embrace of all things cultural – the performing arts, music, visual arts, cinematic arts, and literary arts- with an equal measure of loyal support for the artists that comprise its fabric. Even the (awesome!) hotel where I stayed, The Modern Hotel and Bar, had a TV channel dedicated to showcasing local independent filmmakers.

I was so wildly impressed with my every minute in Boise that I wanted to share a few highlights, starting with my host organization Surel’s Place.

Surel’s Place is a home for artists – literally. Located in a quaint neighborhood near the Boise River, Surel’s Place is the former home and studio of local artist and arts champion Surel Mitchell. It currently serves as an art center and artist live-work space, offering a generous residency program granting national and international artists the rare privilege of unfettered time to develop their practice: “Artists need shelter. Artists need space. Artists need time. Surel’s Place … offers artists the gift of all three.” In addition to its residency program, which I highly recommend, Surel’s Place also opens its doors for artist gatherings, networking opportunities and, in our case, practice development workshops. It also houses a gallery that features the work of local artists. Surel’s Place is a beautiful space with a huge heart that’s fully dedicated to assisting artists thrive. I was honored to have shared in their community.

My Boise weekend’s cultural attaché (and new pal) was the lovely Karen Rapp, Surel’s Place co-founder. Karen works for the Public Art Program of the Boise City Department of Arts and History Division, and she treated me to a first-hand tour of the city’s fantastic public art works and initiatives. Boise’s Public Art Program is nationally recognized for its innovation, and is “proud to be among the very few cities in the country with a dedicated City department committed to advancing arts and history.”

An exceptionally generous hostess, Karen shared many of Boise’s most interesting and renowned institutions with me during my stay. At the Boise Art Museum we saw Minidoka: Artist as Witness, an exhibition offering the moving art, memories, and personal experiences of three Japanese American artists held in detention camps during WWII. There was an accompanying installation that featured towering sculptures made from aged reproductions of names tags of the tens of thousands of people held at camps throughout the US.

When not seeing the sites with Ms. Karen, I got a pretty proficient at entertaining myself with self-directed discovery tours on my multiple cross-town walks. In theme and variation, murals and street art are fairly ubiquitous sites in Boise.

A prime viewing spot is “Freak Alley Gallery”, a cross-section of intercepting alleys dedicated to a rotating fair of local artists’ work. “Freak Alley Gallery” seems to be a source of civic pride; culinary nut artisan David from the delectable City Peanut, who left his proprietor’s post to excitedly escort me to Freak Gallery, noted that its curator and guardian is usually seen lurking with a protective eye out for uninvited art interference.

One of my weekend’s highlights was a visit to the Peregrine Fund Sanctuary, The World Center for Birds of Prey. Founded in 1970 to help restore the Peregrine Falcon population, which thanks to their passionate efforts was removed from The Endangered Species List in 1999, The Peregrine Fund serves as a sanctuary, rehab, breeding and release center.

Located on several acres of picturesque land outside of Boise, they work on behalf of more than 100 species in 65 countries. Current efforts include the restoration of the California Condor and Aplomado Falcon. They have quite a few condors living on the premises, which will eventually be released into secluded areas of California and Arizona, free from human interference. (Condors and other birds of prey are threatened by lead poisoning from bullets used by hunters to kill what eventually becomes dinner for condors in the wild; The Peregrine Fund provides ammunition and education as a deterrent for the use of the lead bullets.)

The center also has an interactive education center with programs dedicated to enlightening the public on the life and plight of endangered raptors. During our visit, were taken under the wing, so to speak, of a staffer who gave us a personalized tour of the premises and its residents, culminating in an amazing bird show featuring a few of the center’s celebrity birds.

I felt invigorated and inspired by all my adventures in Boise. I am grateful to all the wonderful new friends I made while there and am hoping to go back soon; Karen and I talked about my being an artist advisor in residence at Surel’s Place, during which I would offer professional development workshops and one-on-one career consultations with artists. There was also talk of my doing more gigs with the Idaho Arts Commission in other parts of the state. Working with artists across the U.S. is top of my agenda this year and it was so rewarding to kick off my tour ambitions in Boise.

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