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Art at the Aspen Lofts

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Downtown Boise is littered with empty high-rise condos--airy, modern spaces with sweeping views and no one to enjoy them. For commercial loan officer Steve Zabel and real estate agent Lindsay Dofelmier, this tragedy has an easy remedy: turn those underutilized spaces into temporary art galleries, a project they're calling "House of Art."

"Developers have space, they have homes or condo units, and they're always looking for traffic--more people to walk through, more people to market the product to," said Zabel. "Artists are always looking for space and are always looking for more people to show their work to. So, this concept basically unifies the two parties together."

For their inaugural event, Zabel and Dofelmier teamed up with Scott Kimball, developer of the Aspen Lofts, an elegant, 17-story pile of modern lines and angles that towers above Front Street. They've invited 11 local artists to display their work on the seventh floor of the building for one night only on First Thursday, Aug. 5.

"Living downtown is hip, that's the message," said Dofelmier. "We're not always going to be at the Aspen, we're hoping to cycle to R. Grey Lofts and the Gem Noble and the Jefferson and maybe Grand Avenue, some of the other projects around downtown."

This concept might sound familiar. In early 2009, the 8th Street Marketplace launched an Artists in Residence program, in which local artists are invited to utilize empty commercial spaces in the two BODO buildings for three-month intervals. The program has been so popular that other spaces like the Alaska Building and the basement of the Renewal Building have jumped on board. Also, in a broader sense, Modern Art at the Modern Hotel has combined art and the marketing of commercial space, drawing more than 3,000 people to the hotel each year for a wildly successful art event.

"I didn't know about the AIR project, I didn't know about Modern Art at the time. So, as I've been doing this, those are things I've learned," said Zabel. "I'm not reinventing the wheel by any means, we just have a different spin on it."

Dofelmier points to Phantom Galleries LA in Los Angeles--which utilizes vacant storefront windows throughout the city for temporary, 24/7 art installations--as a prime example of what they'd like to accomplish. For Dofelmier and Zabel, both members of Boise's Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable urban planning and land usage, "House of Art" is about helping turn Boise's downtown into a thriving, creative center.

"We really share a passion for Urban Land Institute and urban land use," said Dofelmier. "Not just because it's the sustainable thing to do, but it's also cool and that's where the center of culture in any city is."

Artists involved in the inaugural show include Rachel Teannalach, Rm. 701; Joe Appel, Rm. 702; Christophe and Corrin, Rm. 703; Ed Anderson, Rm. 704; Manuela Muminovic, Rm.705; Cody Rutty, Rm. 706; Anna Ura, Rm. 707; Cheri Meyer, Rm. 708; James Sharp, Rm. 709; Mike Shipman, Rm. 710 and Gus Johnson's artistic ball-and-wire chairs sprinkled throughout. For Sharp, who has shown work previously at The Lobby, Metro Carwash and Boise City Hall, "House of Art" presents a unique opportunity to for up-and-coming artists like himself to get their feet wet.

"When you're a smaller artist, or you're up-and-coming, it's tough to find things and tough to find places [to show art] unless you know the right people or you really look hard," said Sharp. "It's nice seeing new people and new faces."

Though much of Sharp's work explores darker themes--Coagulopathy, for example, features a three-dimensional hand protruding from a frame holding a bleeding, nail-ridden heart--he plans to keep things a bit more upbeat at "House of Art."

"My hope is to present it in more of a tasteful way than a dark and dreary way. I'm probably going to shy away a little bit from the gory, gory stuff just because of the environment. You kind of have to speak to the audience that's there."

For painter Rutty, who has two other concurrent shows going on--one at Basement Gallery and one in Shari Olivieri's AIR space in the 8th Street Marketplace--"House of Art" presented an opportunity to create new work.

"'I've got to paint more.' That was my first thought," said Rutty. "I usually don't say no to cool stuff like this."

And even though Rutty acknowledges that it'll be cumbersome to cart his work up to the seventh floor of Aspen Lofts for a one-night show, he also sees the potential for a good amount of buzz.

"People going into it--as far as a viewership is concerned--they're aware that it's a one-night show as well, so there's a certain amount of urgency about it that has a totally different energy than if the show was up for two months," noted Rutty.

For Zabel and Dofelmier, the goal is not only to draw in the First Thursday masses but also to court serious art collectors who might have a little extra coin to drop on a new condo.

"As we keep doing this, what I would love to do is market this more and more to those folks who would buy the art. I want to make it more art-centric with the idea being that someone who can come in and afford to buy the art that night or shortly thereafter, would most likely be the type of people who can also buy a condo."

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