"Art" is a strong word for what often serves as decoration in hotel and motel rooms, but in May 2008, the Boise community was introduced to a whole new way of looking at hotel art when about a dozen local artists were each invited to transform a room in the not-quite-1-year-old Modern Hotel—a kind of work of art in itself—into a mini-gallery. Not sure what to expect, everyone involved in the event was surprised when nearly 1,000 people showed up. The next year, Modern Art was born. With artists turning all of the hotel's rooms into exhibit spaces and thousands of people attending the annual one-night happening on First Thursday in May, Modern Art quickly became one of the most anticipated and best attended art and cultural gatherings in Boise. Organizers, though extremely proud of what Modern Art became, realized it wasn't infinitely sustainable—it takes a toll on the small hotel staff and turning away guests who want to book rooms that week isn't sound business—so, going out on a high note, Modern Art 2016 will be the final hurrah. What the event has done for the area arts community, however, will have a long-lasting effect.
Modern Art actually started as an innovative way to market the new boutique inn, but there was an even more valuable inspiration behind the concept.
"We [the Modern Hotel] were looking for ways to be involved in the community," said Modern Art organizer Kerry Tullis, who was one of the artists featured in the inaugural year. "The arts community was a natural fit."
Tullis couldn't have been more right. Both burgeoning and established artists took to Modern Art like a brush to canvas as visual artists, musicians, writers, performers and artists of every ilk filled rooms with new and interesting sights and sounds, tapping the community's vast well of creativity. Modern Art also encouraged enterprise and, each year, artists successfully experimented with different genres, styles, media, materials, etc. Many artists, like painter Troy Passey—who has had a room at Modern Art since the beginning—even created work specifically for the event.
"I have some work that I've only shown at the Modern," Passey said. "Then it's never been shown again but for that one night," adding that he also enjoyed joining in the "spectacle" of the event.
"This is like a 'normative holiday' for an introverted artist," Passey said. "I embrace it."
Though the final Modern Art will be a bittersweet affair, the event will go down in local history for having accomplished something not easily done.
"There were connections made by artists who saw what one another were capable of. I think lots of collaborations and germs of ideas have come from that," Tullis said. "Even the artists themselves have seen one another differently, and I think it has been very invigorating for a lot of the artists. ... [Modern Art] was a real shot in the arm for the arts community."