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Leah Clark, Matt Clark and Helene Peterson

It takes a village-local heroes rev up the artistic community in Boise


When Helene Peterson, Matt Clark and Leah Clark heard they had been nominated for Boise Weekly's local heroes issue, their communal response was, "Do we get capes?"

The phrase local hero does initially conjure up images of doctors, teachers, soldiers and social workers who admirably keep the heart of a community pumping, but the artists of a community keep its soul thriving-leveling them as heroes up there with every cat-rescuing fireman.

Matt, Leah and Helene have all dedicated the past decade of their lives to enhancing Boise's artistic community, each founding a company independent of the other's yet intrinsically connected in a collaborative environment. The three long time friends (and roommates on three separate occasions) came together professionally in 1996 as a result of mutual aspirations to provide professional theater, professional modern dance and youth contemporary dance to Boise.

Meeting Helene for the first time through the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in 1996, "I realized how many talented people there were living in Boise with really only three or four months of opportunity in the year," says Matt, artistic director of Boise Contemporary Theater (BCT). Around the same time, Leah and Matt reunited on personal and professional levels and were later married in 2000, the same year the organizations found a home in the Fulton Street Theater.

BCT is the "granddaddy" of the two younger organizations; Helene founded Drop Dance Collective shortly after returning to Boise post-NYU grad school and is also currently the managing director of BCT, and Leah founded the contemporary youth dance company Balance in the fall of 1997. "Not being that far away from having been a young dancer in Boise myself," Leah recalls, "I was really aware of how miserable the opportunities were for young dancers in contemporary dance." Balance provides an avenue for young dancers and local and national choreographers, "so these young dancers have an idea of what they can find if they leave Boise, which I didn't feel like I had," Leah says.

"It takes a village," Helene adds, to resounding agreement. "It takes a village to raise an artist, to keep doing art because it's really hard to do it on your own. We certainly don't do it on our own, and we use each other for all of our projects."

The trio caught Boise at an optimal time, even though that meant financing shows on their credit cards to get things rolling; the objective being to at least pay the performers if not their own debt. "It was a nonprofit organization in the truest sense of the word," laughs Leah. "We were just really fortunate in the timing," Matt explains. "Certainly there are other people who have tried to do things similar to what we're all doing in the past, but Boise wasn't quite big enough to support it."

"[Drop] does fill a niche I think in terms of new work in this community for professional dancers and choreographers," says Helene. "Yeah, it's really hard, raising money is really hard, but we also really believe in what we're doing and love it, and that's lucky."

Out of their targeted 2.1 million fundraising campaign to make the Fulton Street Theater fully functional, they're in their last 119,000. The cliched ongoing struggle to survive in the arts is not the ideal way to produce high caliber work, in fact, the opposite is almost always true. "Take France for instance, they have a minister of the arts," Helene says. "I mean that's phenomenal, and they fund hundreds of companies." Matt adds, "I think all three of us would be phenonmenally better artists if we were better funded."

Though they all recognize recent improvements such as the National Endowment for the Arts budget increase (spearheaded by Idaho's own Senator Larry Craig) is a respectable start, there is always room for additional patronage. For now, Boise should at least be able to arrange capes.