It's a magical moment, under the still glow of red lights, watching the corners of an image appear as you swirl a piece of photo paper in a vinegary vat of developer. For many budding shutterbugs, that moment first happens in a school photography class. In the Boise School District, for example, all secondary schools (except one) have photography programs to teach kids the art of aperture, f-stop and shutter speed. So when Alexa Howell from the subterranean Alexa Rose Gallery needed to collect 1,000 photos for an upcoming photo collage exhibition, she knew just where to turn: the Boise School District's Art Cottage.
"We're the art department for the school district, so we help facilitate the curriculum and the programs out of here," explained Art Cottage art consultant Cathy Mansell. "We have resources. We have things people can check out in order for people to do projects--mask forms and balloons and printmaking materials, brayers. The school doesn't have to buy their own stuff. They can check stuff out from here and reuse it."
Mansell got her start in the Art Cottage--a smallish space filled with hundreds of books and art prints located inside Frank Church High School--in the 1970s, when it was situated in an actual three-story cottage. For the last four decades, she has helped coordinate artistic partnerships like the one with Alexa Rose. From exhibitions in office buildings to murals downtown, the Art Cottage helps young artists gain exposure in the community.
"This is the first time we've ever done an exclusive-to-photography exhibit, so everybody's really excited about the potential for that because photography is changing so much with digital technology," said Mansell. "The kids still love the magic of the darkroom, so you still see what kids can come up with using photograms and pinhole cameras and light exposed prints ... that magic doesn't happen on the computer screen."
Browsing through the large box of submissions in her downtown apartment, Howell pulls out stack after stack of submitted photos, most of them gathered from Boise public school students. Some are mounted black-and-whites done for class assignments and others are unmarked colorful randoms collected from photographers in the community. The subject matter varies widely--a blurry cat, Chuck Taylors on an escalator, a dude on a porch. Once they've all been examined, the photographs will then be arranged in a still-to-be-determined pattern by artist and local Anthropologie window designer Lisa Arnold.
"Right now my first thought, because there are different rooms, is having a black-and-white room, a red-toned room, a cool-toned room and greens and blues in one room. I feel that will be the easiest to colorblock it out to have it make sense," said Arnold. "We have such a large amount of photos, it should be pretty impactful walking in and being surrounded by them."
Howell and her son, Clarke, meticulously catalogued each of the photos submitted, about 1,200 in total, listing the name, contact information and selling price for every piece. On the exhibit's opening night, First Thursday, May 6, from 5-9 p.m., visitors will have the opportunity to pull photos they like off the wall and purchase them on the spot. Howell and Arnold hope that this exhibition, with its diverse pool of attendees--students, parents, teachers, local photographers--and wide array of subject matter, will help raise some much needed funds for the gallery space.
"We've been wanting to buy new lights for the gallery, but they're expensive so we've been trying to figure out ways to raise money," said Arnold. "So, we focused on something that everyone can do: a picture ... We made it mandatory to price it under $20, so then they're really obtainable."
Not only is the show financially accessible to visitors, it's also an approachable opportunity for new photographers. For local amateur photographer Jessica Pallante, who works at Flying M Coffeehouse, the photo exhibition is a chance to wade rather than dive into the waters of showing her work publicly.
"I've taken pictures. It's been a great hobby and fascination of mine since I was about 13. I like a lot of the urban and graffiti aspects of things downtown, seeing things a different way than most people would, catching something before it disappears," said Pallante. "I haven't really tried to get my name out there before, and I thought that it would be a great opportunity to try."
Pallante was one of few from the community to respond to Alexa Rose's call for photographers. Without help from the Art Cottage and students in Boise School District photography classes, the exhibition might not have happened.
"We almost didn't have it," said Howell. "It went from a great idea that didn't happen to a great idea that happened but in a different way. It's just terrific."
But sadly, due to sweeping budget cuts in the school district, future collaborations like this one may be in jeopardy. After 40 years working at the Boise School District, Mansell was recently laid off--with no one slated to fill her position. Though she explained that the Art Cottage will remain open as an art supply resource center, she said it is uncertain who will coordinate all of the various art shows and community collaborations to which Boise school students have become so accustomed.
"It's not that I'm bitter, but I'm sad because I know how important art is to the education of the whole child," said Mansell. "So many jobs out there in life require the arts. It's what gives us our humanity."
First Thursday, May 6, 5-9 p.m., Gallery Alexa Rose, 280 N. Eighth St., Ste. 118. For more First Thursday news and events click here.