Arts & Culture » Visual Art

A Little Grant Goes a Long Way

Checking in on some BW Cover Grant recipients

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Earlier this year, local artist Brooke Burton used a $525 grant she received through the Boise Weekly Cover Auction to help purchase materials to create three huge topographic maps loosely based on the Hawaiian islands. The gigantic sculptural maps are each 8-feet tall by 4-feet wide and are created from her favorite media: green and white packaging peanuts, foam core and plastic shrink wrap. The materials are unusual, oddly expensive and difficult to come by in large quantities in Boise.

Burton recently graduated with a MFA from Boise State and is dually fascinated and dismayed by scientific classification systems and artifacts of popular culture. Burton's quirky aesthetic landed her a recent artist-in-residency in the 8th Street AIR program, where she was able to expand her work in a much larger way, as her new gallery space was quadruple the size of her home studio.

In March of this year, a group of arts professionals--including myself--gathered in the BW conference room with the goal of dispersing the proceeds from the 2009 BW Cover Auction (which is held each November) in the form of grants to arts organizations and, for the first time, individual artists like Burton. All told, 19 applications were evaluated and more than $14,000 was granted to nine projects that the panel felt had the most ingenuity and community impact.

Six organizations received funds for specific projects: Trey McIntyre Project for Spurban dances, Boise Art Walks for downtown walking tours, TRICA for arts education, Has Bin Project to create public art from recycling bins, BOSCO for artist open studios tours and Go Listen Boise, a volunteer-run group whose goal is to foster and promote a diverse musical culture.

Go Listen Boise wanted to educate and "create active listeners instead of passive listeners," says Ali Ward, co-founder of the group (and percussionist in Boise's own Hillfolk Noir) so she began brainstorming ways to organize major players in the local music scene, from singers to shop owners.

"There were all these great ideas floating around on how to promote and sustain music in Boise but without a group to manage them, they would've fizzled out," Ward explains.

In 2009, she founded Go Listen Boise with Stephanie Coyle who, according to Ward, is "Boise's biggest music fan." Together they produced Grand 'Ol Time, a six-month series of local old time strummin' bands combined with swing dance lessons held at the Linen Building. Thus far their $2,500 BW grant has been used to pay the musical acts.

But it was the introduction of the PJ Dean Artist Grant that most intrigued the panel. Originally earmarked as a $1,000 award to be presented to one artist, the panel was so impressed with the applicants they decided to award money to three artists in the grant's inaugural year.

"The Boise Weekly has been a long-time supporter of the arts locally, and it's great to see their new grant supporting individual artists in their quest to just make work, take risks and be creative," says Karen Bubb, public arts manager for the City of Boise Department of Arts and History.

Kirsten Furlong, a printmaker and the director of Boise State's Visual Arts Center gallery, found out earlier this year that she received a prestigious grant through Denali National Park in Alaska to be an artist-in-residence this summer. Only three artists a year are chosen for the program, which includes two weeks in the park's remote and rustic East Fork Cabin, which was built in the 1920s and has no running water or electricity. The basis of the residency program is to inspire artists via solitude combined with awe-inspiring natural wonders, in exchange for a completed artwork for the park's permanent collection and a free public lecture for park visitors. But when Furlong discovered the travel and food costs were not only expensive and the responsibility of the artist, but she was worried she'd have to decline. With the help of a $1,000 BW grant, she was able to make it work.

"The extreme amount of daylight hours and the overwhelming power of the physical landscape there ... it just blew me away," says Furlong, who spent her July residency soaking it all in. She also made preliminary aids for a body of work to be shown in a fall 2011 exhibition at the Linen Building.

Michael Cordell has been an active participant in Boise's creative community for more than 30 years. He, too, received a $1,000 grant to help preserve and document a large body of work he made between 1981 and 1988: around 1,300 photographs of Boise's drag queen culture. Friends with many in the gay community, Cordell was a regular at a variety of coronations and pageants staged at such iconic landmarks as Shucky's Bar and the Mardi Gras ballroom. Cordell has since moved from photography to sculpture, and the big box of slides containing this work was put out of his mind until recently. Luckily, he realized the importance of the body of work, not only artistically but historically and began investigating local resources and institutions to conserve it. Cordell has made arrangements for the collection to be gifted to the Boise State Special Collections, which houses all sorts of unique rarities pertaining to Idaho history. They already hold a number of documents relating to Boise's LGBT history and community, so the photographs will become a superb asset. Pursuing projects like Cordell's as an individual artist is difficult. Bubb agrees.

"These grants financially and morally support the artists' journey as creators in our community and are much-needed," she says.