Fresh out of high school in 2003, fashion designer Heidi Luerra packed her bags and made the trek from Redding, Calif., to Los Angeles. After struggling to make a name for herself in a vast sea of ambitious creative types, Luerra decided to start her own clothing line, selling her pieces at swap meets on the weekends. However, with a part-time job, an internship in the fashion district and full-time studies, she began to wonder if there was a better way to get exposure as a designer.
"I was trying to market myself, and there was no approachable entity available for me," Luerra said. "I had friends and acquaintances that had brilliant work in fashion, music, art and film. It didn't seem fair that we didn't have a platform to sell and show our work. Our options were either a local swap meet or walk into big boutiques or galleries. There was no middle ground, so I took matters into my own hands."
And that's when Luerra came up with the idea for RAW: Natural Born Artists, an event spotlighting artistic talent in film, fashion, music, visual art, performance art and hair and makeup with the goal of providing "independent artists within the first 10 years of their career with the tools, resources and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity."
A precursor to RAW made its debut in Los Angeles in 2005 to more than 750 people. After hosting a number of other successful events, Luerra decided it was time to take RAW to the next level. In 2009, she paired up with web designer Matthew Klahorst to launch the creative behemoth that RAW is now. To date, there have been RAW installations in 62 American cities and Australia. And next year, the event will expand to Europe and China.
On Thursday, May 17, Boise will debut the first in a series of RAW summer showcases at the Powerhouse Events Center. The evening will highlight an eclectic array of musicians, photographers, designers and other artsy folks looking to broaden their horizons.
The gallons of hot coffee and hours spent in the office have been both fruitful and humbling for Luerra, who said it has been difficult to sell her idea to communities such as Boise that aren't quite hip to RAW's mission.
"The main aspect that has worked against us is continually proving our validity," Luerra remarked. "When you're doing something that has never been done before and there is nothing to compare it to, you're essentially going against the grain. Pushing through the stigmas of helping artists has been somewhat challenging."
Fortunately, Boise State alum Amy Johnson-Myers caught wind of Luerra's project and offered to scout talent as a local RAW showcase director. Though reaching out to artists and battling suspicions about the new event were roadblocks in the beginning, RAW has slowly gained buzz in the artistic community.
"Boise's a tough market and I told them that in L.A.," said Johnson-Myers. "People don't want to leave their houses at night unless it's something really fantastic."
Fashion remains a key component to RAW's success. Mindi Burt, mother by day and local fashion stylist by night, will stage a fashion show that revolves around the juxtaposition of clothing and accessories from different time periods.
"I'm taking either a key silhouette from a different era or I'm taking a key item and I'm mixing them," explained Burt. "So you'll have like an Egyptian top with a Dior skirt from the '50s, the colors might be bright like an '80s neon kind of thing, with a hairstyle from the '20s."
Burt is working exclusively with used clothing from St. Vincent de Paul.
"It's a collective art show but it's really a collaborative effort and it's a lot of people helping out different artists in different areas," said Burt. "It's been really awesome getting inspiration and ideas from all of these other people."
Boise's Fleet Street Klezmer Band, a Sephardic Jewish and Gypsy music group, will also perform alongside traditional belly dancers. Formed in 2008 by Victoria and Shlomo Kostenko, the group is known for its spirited live shows.
Another face to look out for at Boise's debut RAW event is ballet dancer Yurek Hansen. With more than 13 years of experience dancing and choreographing with Idaho Dance Theater, Hansen blends timeless ballet artistry with more modern hip-hop aesthetics.
Also sharing the stage is singer-songwriter and painter Shari Olivieri, whose sultry voice and quaint guitar licks have garnered her attention locally. Olivieri has watched the Boise creative scene swing and sway over the years and hopes that people are willing to give RAW a chance.
"I hate to see really great events fall through because Boise can't support great promoters, great events and the art scene," said Olivieri. "If people don't support it, it won't exist, so I hope that Boise can make everyone proud."
Johnson-Myers echoed that sentiment:
"Basically, if there's one thing you're going to do this month, then this should be it," said Johnson-Myers. "It's got everything all in one night, in once place, and you get to dress up. There's not enough opportunities to dress up here in Boise so I'm excited about that, too."
RAW will return every third Thursday through October. A list of artists participating each month can be found at rawartists.org/boise.