Enso Artspace is an anomaly. The suite on 38th Street behind an RV lot in Garden City's Live-Work-Create District seems more like a cross between a storage unit and an apartment complex than an art gallery. The beyond-bleak gray brick exterior is interrupted with uniformly plain doors. While immaculate, the space hardly lends itself to the adjective "artistic."
Until you set foot inside. Even empty, it's easy to see why 10 local artists chose to house Boise's newest collective here. Their hard work is apparent, since the group started with scant lighting and barely sheetrocked walls. Now the space boasts track lights and pristine white walls, and is ready to show off more than the construction abilities of the artists.
"The bones were there," said Paris-born artist Anna Ura. "We want the work to stand for itself."
Along with Ura, Chris Binion, Cate Brigden, Andrea Merrell, Kelly Packer, Lisa Pisano, Christine Raymond, Pam Swenson, Michael Cordell and Amy Westover comprise the collective's lineup. The group will host its inaugural exhibition and an opening reception at the new space on Friday, May 13.
These artists are far from newbies on the Boise art scene. Although diverse in age, background and medium, the artists all share a few common threads, one being lengthy resumes. The other is a philosophy, according to Merrell, an Idaho native and world traveler.
"It's straightforward and honest, like our space," Merrell said. "It's an attitude--a sort of seriousness without being too serious or taking ourselves too seriously. And everyone--even the younger people--has been with art for a long time."
Binion delights in the semi-obscurity of the space and describes it as a "who would've thought it" location. But Garden City is becoming a hybrid of industry and art, with galleries, performance spaces and art supply stores hiding in a sea of used car lots and warehouses.
"I think artists have always looked toward Garden City," Binion said. "It's close to downtown, sort of undeveloped like it was in the '50s and provides a lot of opportunities."
Since the space doesn't lend itself to walk-ins and work is available to view by appointment, at events and receptions, the artists can maintain a work space without having to run a traditional gallery. Enso Artspace may also help change the idea of what an art space should look like and where it should be.
"Live Work Create was sort of created to cater to the arts," said Jenah Thornborrow, manger of Garden City Planning and Development Services. "I think Enso will be a great add and exactly what the city would like to see there. The city is excited to have them."
Having spent a great deal of time around the world living in both small towns and urban epicenters, Ura believes the area to be a good mix of the two extremes.
"It's somewhere in between," Ura said. "It's not as big or diverse as San Francisco or Los Angeles, obviously, but there's an openness here. People are welcoming and supportive. [Boise] is full of wonderful artists with a lot of passion."
The idea of Enso, much like the space, seemed to appear out of nowhere. The group met to discuss the space over brunch at Binion's (who, according to Merrell, is "quite the gourmet guy" and will be concocting something delectable for the opening reception). The location was suggested to them by Jacqueline Crist, owner of the former J Crist gallery, which represented many of Enso's artists. The group recognized strengths in each other and catered to them in developing the artspace.
"It's turned out to be a great balance, with everyone having different skills," Brigden said, "They've come together to complement each other. Kelly Packer made us a beautiful website, and Michael Cordell has been a marvelous handyman."
The 10 artists make up six committees that take care of Enso's every need, from planning hors d'oeuvres for receptions to maintaining a presence online. Many members serve on two committees. While the collaborative has required the artists to take on non-artistic roles, it hasn't proved terribly difficult.
"We're learning along the way," Pisano said as she, Merrell and Binion reflected on the group's first meeting. They laughed when talking about painting the walls while they ate Indian food and joked about everything.
"It was like we were trying to make it hard," Binion said of the ease the group encounters in making decisions. "But it was just the right time in Boise and in our lives."
The name "Enso" was one of the first proposed, and it's a name that Pisano brought to the table based on a Japanese calligraphy symbol that resembles a circle and is riddled with meaning involving infinite possibilities and change.
The space Enso occupies is also ripe with possibility. The artists are more than willing to invite other artists of all mediums into their space and encourage interested parties to call and set up appointments to view the work housed there.
"We want it to be a casual environment where it's fun to just come, see some stuff and enjoy," said Pisano.
Binion concurs with the idea of a laid-back environment for the space.
"It's not like we're car salesmen and we have a quota," he said laughing, adding that he hopes to have people come by and see "what we've got."
The group has the schedule worked out for the remainder of the year, with collaborative and solo exhibitions to follow the opening reception.
Opening a new space for art is not a risk-free endeavor, but the group is positive about the outcome because they understand art.
"Ultimately, I think this works because it's all of us," Binion said. "Art is what we do. It's who we are--we're artists."