Boise Artists Dream Big For Whitewater Boulevard Roundabout Public Art

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The Whitewater Park Boulevard Roundabout will be an integral part of Boises 30th Street extension.
  • The Whitewater Park Boulevard Roundabout will be an integral part of Boise's 30th Street extension.

At first glance, public art and traffic—and roundabouts in particular—may seem strange bedfellows.

Yet, at Boise City Hall on Thursday, June 27, approximately a dozen local artists joined city planners in a workshop to discuss strategies for public art planned for the already-under construction roundabout on Whitewater Park Boulevard. The project is being funded by the mayor's Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant program.

City planners reminded the public that the roundabout isn't just for traffic flow; it will stand as an entrance to the Esther Simplot Park, which is currently under development. Planners said the public art will "set the tone" for visitors, and could ultimately be "the voice for public art throughout the entire 30th Street neighborhood."

Erin Sorensen, chair for the Veteran's Park Neighborhood Association, briefed the artists on the background of the project. She highlighted examples of roundabouts from other states, most of them featuring a strong emphasis on nature: birds in flight, visually striking globes, landscaped gardens and trees.

"[The artwork] will be designed for people, not cars" Sorensen emphasized.

Yet, Sorensen stressed that there are a number of concerns regarding the art placement. Not only will it be the first roundabout in Boise, leading to potential commuter confusion, but the artwork has to obey a large number of stringent planning rules laid down by ACHD. The roundabout, for instance, lies on a school walking route. The final design needs to be interesting, but not inviting for children to climb.

Sorensen said plans would include a nearby art wall to protect the schoolyard from the Boulevard, combining safety with a strong feeling of community.

"My grandparents lived about eight houses down from the roundabout," she said, showing the artists slides of her family, along with other neighborhood residents.

City planners reminded the artists that the neighborhood is made up of a combination of white-collar families, refugees and immigrants, which gives it an eclectic, multicultural feel. The West Boise area regularly plays host to ethnic food festivals and refugee projects like community gardens.

"There's an identity to the neighborhood," said blacksmith Britta Lindstrom, who lived in the area. "It's got a uniqueness that should be celebrated."

Another artist, Stephanie Inman, said the neighborhood had become "kind of a forgotten area."

Inman's plan is to reveal the neighborhood's unique character.

"You want [the community] to be proud of it. It's really important to involve them," she said.

Marcus Pierce, already responsible for several works of public art in Boise—including the Kilgore Trout on Sixth and Main—knows the community there well.

"You get a lot of refugees there," he said. "It's refreshing to have them readily embrace the community."

The multicultural community, along with its rich and diverse history, make up several more of the thematic principles for the proposed project.

"We don't want the road to be a divider," said Inman. "It needs to be more porous."