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Ambassadors to Idaho

Projekt locqa is working to put Idaho art on the map

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The "Facts about Idaho" page of the official state Web site (www.idaho.gov) lists potatoes and outdoor adventure under its "Why we're famous" heading. There's no mention of the arts.

Projekt locqa, a local visual arts collective, aims to change all that. By serving as ambassadors to--and from--Idaho, the group of six artists is committed to putting Idaho on the art world map. Pete Grady, one of the group's founders, says the primary goal of the group "is to promote [the art scene in] Boise, give people a chance to know we're not a backwater place ...We're as vibrant as New York, Seattle or L.A."

The caliber of artists involved in the collective backs up Grady's statement. All the current participants--Stacie Chappell, Pete Grady, Lorin Humphreys, Surel Mitchell, Dave Thomas and guest artist Pauline Bothwell--are professional artists and three of them are represented by the highly respected J Crist Gallery. Their works have individually been exhibited across the U.S. and purchased by private collectors.

Project locqa is committed to maximizing its talent for the benefit of themselves as individuals and as a group, the arts community and the public at large. Since February of this year, when the group formally came together, they have hosted a wine-and-cheese reception that attracted nearly 200 people from the arts community, as well as a show titled "Art Puns" that included parodies of famous artworks alongside their own new work.

project locqa's current show is called Underneath Idaho. It runs through October 21 at the John B. Davis Gallery at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Grady explained that Underneath Idaho references how the local arts community "is under the surface here culturally, just a little behind the times, but popping up here and there." The collective views the exhibition as a cultural event rather than a commercial opportunity for themselves. "We want to draw people in, and we're not out for a fight," Grady said. "We're not trying to convert Jeff Foxworthy fans."

Shed Complex, Grady's 8-inch x 156-inch grid installation of 24 drawings of antlers, will be exhibited at the show. He said, "The focus is on the meaning of the marks and their relation to the images of the antlers. Collectively, the antlers mean something different than if they were presented as a succession of individual drawings."

Grady believes art does not have to be inaccessible. He believes anyone can appreciate new work by asking themselves this simple question: "Do I like looking at it?"

Mitchell is showing five sculptural pieces from her Filter series. "They all hang from the ceiling and are composed of a series of filter-like shapes, hanging one inside the other," she said. "In the most recent series, I have been exploring the different types of headaches I get. I have had two or three headaches a week my whole life and I realized what an influential element they have been, so I decided to try to address them through my work."

Humphreys has three paintings in the show: Ghost Town, The City Street (dedicated to his friend Mack) and The Mediator. He said, "These paintings deal with my experience of living in Idaho connected to the experience of family and friends as they contend with government, addiction, love and sacrifice."

Thomas said he's showing 10 drawings and paintings selected from his most recent completed work, the Unpainted Psalm Series. Chappell and Bothwell will also exhibit work.

All projekt locqa's shows have taken place within Idaho's borders, but it plans to exhibit regionally and nationally as well. Grady believes it's easier for artists to promote themselves as a group rather than as individuals. "I think galleries are more receptive to a group because they get a turn-key exhibit," he said. He noted that group exhibitions tend to be more diverse, offer a higher probability of filling a gallery with art and visitors, and appeal to a wider audience in other cities.

This desire for mobility is reflected in the collective's name. "We sat around in Surrel's living room and came up with a bunch of corny names," Grady said. Eventually, however, "locomotive" became "locqa"--a made-up word that suggests the conveyance of art and dialogue between people and places. The group decided on the alternative spelling of "projekt" after a Google search on the orthographically-correct version of the word turned up untold millions of hits.

Projekt locqa has since created a CD that is being used to introduce them to a wide variety of galleries and art institutions. It also has a Web site in the works. The members take pride in the fact that their different skill sets have combined to strengthen the group as a whole. Grady, for example, brings a successful background in sales to the collective. Chappell handles public relations and marketing while the others provide CD and Web design along with a variety of the other business attributes needed to succeed.

Just as importantly, the collective provides the intellectual and interpersonal stimuli the artists need to thrive. Originally, the members of projekt locqa met weekly at Gernika in downtown Boise, held exhibitions in their respective studios, and hosted guest artists and speakers. Grady explained, "Artists work in isolation and spend all day looking at a piece of paper and they agonize. Or they don't work at all, and that's worse ... Our group brings energy. We feed on each other." He noted that having to meet deadlines for group shows has pushed him to create a significant body of new works.

Thomas, Humphreys and Mitchell similarly enjoy the strength and vitality generated by their participation in projekt locqa. Thomas cited communication with his peers and the chance to critique one another's work as important factors in his personnel growth and development as an artist. Mitchell feels that membership in the collectives offers not only the professional support of her fellow members, but also enables her to become more involved with other local artists. Humphreys particularly enjoys the company. "Everyone in this group is supportive of each other and we all recognize the importance of community," he said. "We share common interests in art, but we also share common values in family. I am learning from the life experiences of others in the group."

"I like the social aspect of [projekt locqa, too]," Mitchell said. "I like that we are all serious working artists. We're a group and we make group decisions, but we always seem to be able to work it out. It's fabulous."

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