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Artistic Landscape

Boise artists keep the cityscape vibrant

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Wander the streets of Boise, take a look in and through alleyways and parking garages, and you will find evidence of Boise's growing public art collection. Boasting 45 projects in downtown alone, the collection could be expanded by including street art elements like the now-pervasive yarn bombs lining parking meters and bike racks.

Who is behind these works of art? It turns out, in most cases, installing public art takes a concerted effort by artists, building owners, city officials and other community members.

"My dad is Farmer Brown. So, as a kid, we were always doing hay rides, haunted houses, music. I have a passion for the arts, and I saw an opportunity where I could give back to the community," said Seth Brown, owner of To Entertain U, who helped organize the Idaho Building parking garage and Freak Alley mural projects.

Brown said the success of the Freak Alley project—which has filled the alley between Eighth and Ninth streets and Bannock and Idaho streets with a colorful collage of murals painted by local artists—required support from the site's management company, an understanding of the law and finding artists to participate.

"We didn't charge the artists anything. We got the art supplies donated, and through collaboration we were able to make it happen," Brown said.

Painting in the alley actually had its start nine or 10 years ago, he said. That was when Colby Akers, an artist and taxi cab driver, asked about painting there.

"Some people want to preserve the art that is in the garage and alley, so we are looking at additional locations to expand into rather than paint over what is there," Brown explained. "We want to see change in Boise. We want to see it become more and more beautiful," he said.

If you have wandered the alley, you have likely seen the work of Nicholas Burgdorf. Bright streaks of neon pink run through the rosy cheeks of a squinting girl, the centerpiece of the mural.

"Creating art out of nowhere and in front of people is fun," Burgdorf said. "There is just something really exciting about being there."

Burgdorf said his interest in public art started years ago.

"I used to live in Phoenix in my early 20s, and I'd seen live art there," he said.

When he moved to Boise, Burgdorf admits he had negative feelings about the art scene.

"Two years or so ago, I realized, 'Why don't I do this stuff myself?'" So Burgdorf began collaborating with friends to throw shows in bars and other unconventional settings.

"I have a do-it-yourself way of thinking when approaching the Boise art scene; engagement is key," Burgdorf said. "I am trying to be more active. Whenever I have an opportunity now, I try to participate."

Burgdorf's involvement has led to good things professionally and personally.

"I have been more open to meeting other artists. Now, I get excited about the Boise art scene. It has the potential to grow."

But if he had his way, more people would be involved.

"It would be everyone doing crazy stuff, interesting things and more people out there," he said. "I don't ever want the scene to become stale."

For Noel Weber Jr. of Classic Design Studio, there are many ways to contribute to an aesthetic.

"I'm always kind of working on things I would consider public art," Weber said.

He is in the process of designing a 12-foot-tall silhouette of a Fender Stratocaster. The work is a sign but Weber said he also sees it as a sort of icon, "like that giant loaf of bread in Portland, [Ore.]."

"I have participated in all types [of public art projects]. I've worked with a bunch of artists who have gotten commissions in Boise," Weber said. For him, permanent fixtures for the city should use sustainable materials.

"Essentially, you have to make it drunk-proof," he said with a chuckle.

In Weber's mind, the definition of public art should include forms of street art. Public art is "people doing stuff on their own because they are passionate about it," he said.

The Boise City Department of Arts and History plays a major role in the support and development of public art. Perhaps one of the more noticeable results of the department's efforts are the colorful displays wrapped around the traffic boxes that operate streetlights.

Public Arts Manager Karen Bubb said the project has received extremely positive feedback from community members and artists alike.

"People love the traffic boxes. It is something that is surprising and unexpected," she said.

For Weber, it's equally important for the artists in the community as well as the planners of a community to take an initiative.

"I know there are probably a lot of building owners downtown who would like to see something on their property," Weber said.

"Public art enhances and celebrates culture in a city, and I don't think you can always accomplish this by hiring it out," he said. "When you try to organize an art scene or movement or collective idea, I don't think it's as effective as the idea being powerful enough to move forward on its own."

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