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Friends of Art

New Boise Art Museum group keeps it fun and fresh

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Boise's reputation as a singles' wasteland is slowly losing steam. Metropolises from Seattle to Atlanta will always have a culture outside the bar for those seeking new friends, acquaintances and lovers-but Boise? How quickly that happens does not necessarily depend on our rapidly growing population, but on the opportunities generated by events such as Alive After Five, First Thursday and now, Friends of Art.

This unique Boise Art Museum group, formerly the Junior Association of Museum Members, has a fresh agenda to host events at the museum that attract crowds between the ages of 21 and 40. Through events and other activities, FOA wants to promote Museum accessibility and raise funds to purchase artwork by young, emerging artists for the Museum's Permanent Collection.

"We're trying to create a youthful presence. The Beaux Arts can be stuffy and we're trying to get away from that, so there is not an iron veil to the museum," says Friends of Art (FOA) member Angela Thomas. Though they are grateful for the sponsorship of the Beaux Arts Société, the reason the association exists is to offer something different, "something cultural, something young," Thomas explains.

Annual FOA membership dues are $45 per person or $75 per family, providing yearlong entrance to the museum, a 10 percent discount in The Museum Store gift shop as well as invites to "members only" events.

Earlier this month Friends of Arts hosted a behind-the-scenes look at the 2004 Idaho Triennial, which included a private tour with Associate Curator Heather Ferrell and an opportunity to hear two featured artists discuss their work.

The Triennial is an exhibition held every three years for artists across the state to present their work for selection by an independent and unbiased juror. This is the museum's way of supporting local artists while simultaneously discovering what Idaho artists are saying "in relationship to the larger art world that we live in," according to BAM Executive Director Tim Close, in his foreword for the exhibition catalog.

Out of the 1,284 entries submitted by 257 artists, only 65 works were chosen from 27 artists. Quite the task for the "guest curator" as Ferrell often referred to Arthur C. Danto, the highly acclaimed art critic and philosopher invited to assemble this year's show. Danto was a painter himself before evolving into one of the most influential art critics in America. Formerly the president of the American Philosophical Association, Danto now remains the Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Columbia University and publishes frequently on art criticism.

All accolades aside, the novice art appreciator FOA is targeting can rest assured that Danto's selection is an excellent introduction to cutting edge, high quality art. On display through March 13, the Triennial exhibit showcases diverse work in a variety of media and is sparsely put together to ensure a leisurely experience. At FOA events like this, whether as a veteran or virgin to the arts, the mix of cheap drinks and strangers in the provoking gallery setting becomes a swanky and cerebral change from the stale 6th and Main scene.

"By bringing younger people to the museum, the FOA is adding a social component to artwork, and the increase in membership makes the museum more successful," says Close. "It offers some wonderful opportunities to talk with artists and curators instead of walking in as a sole visitor," he continued.

The self-sustaining founders of FOA consist of six people, some of whose parents supported the museum as well. "They have no personal gain from this, they just are great citizens. Since their parents were involved, it makes the philanthropy generational, which is great to have," Close said.

As demographics continue to shift in Boise, the interest and thirst for the arts demand additional outlets to support the growth. "There are no other groups like this. This would be an opportunity to partner with other groups," Thomas said. Bonuses outside FOA's sneak previews range from dinner with the artists to home visits that literally bring art to the public. For art of this caliber, $45 a year that include a possible home viewing is a great bargain.

Ted Apel, one of the featured artists to speak at the FOA Triennial event, went on to win the prestigious Best in Show prize of $1,000 and his own solo exhibition at the museum next year. His installation piece has to be experienced, as it uses sound as well as sight, primarily sounds from the museum. You literally become part of the art as a single microphone in the gallery transmits environmental "noise" to eight small brass tubes equipped with miniature loudspeakers. Sound is then reflected back via a computer that reduces the sound before filtering it back into the gallery.

Technical stuff from an artist who gets inspiration at chemistry supply stores is still philosophically important, as Apel explains.

"If you whistle, you'll get sucked into the system and sent back out so it continuously evolves new sounds." Or in Danto's words, "It doesn't matter if you say the Lord's Prayer or burp."

Not the anticipated comment one might expect from a critic of his stature, but all the more reason for the art-shy public to realize that art need not be a whimsical, out of reach subject. It has a language like any other art form that simply takes a genuine interest and an open mind to understand. For those looking for a new networking opportunity in an art setting, funky organizations like Friends of Art provide the venue. Information to join can be found at The Boise Art Museum or online at www.boiseartmuseum.org.