Art Works Blog

Postcard from Idaho

April 9, 2010
Washington, DC


During an event at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy in Boise, Rocco spoke with representatives from Idaho's arts and culture community as Mayor David Bieter looked on. Photo by NEA staff

Thanks to an invitation from Congressman Mike Simpson, Monday morning found me more than 2,000 miles away from the Old Post Office building in Boise, Idaho. So what?s Idaho doing right when it comes to the arts? In a word: everything. Boise Mayor David Bieter has been a leader in using the arts for urban revitalization. In fact, in addition to expected municipal departments such as Police and Public Works, Mayor Bieter has created an Arts and History department. Just one example of how art works in Boise is the Egyptian Theatre, which Idaho Arts Commissioner Kay Hardy has refurbished and renewed. It?s a stunning place now and a magnet for tourists with arts presentations of all kinds.

Also on the topic of the Idaho Commission on the Arts, Executive Director Michael Faison is one of the most dynamic arts leaders in the country. He covers a vast territory---I think every day he must be traveling some 100 miles. He?s a very enlightened guy, very passionate, very smart, very dedicated to what he?s doing. The arts are in great hands there. I also had a chance to meet Mark Hofflund who?s the chair of the arts commission and recently finished his tenure on the NEA?s National Council on the Arts. Somehow Mark also finds time to work as the managing director of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (and write posts for the Art Works blog). What a beautiful theater space! You can look through the stage and you see the mountains and the prairie, and it?s a great setting for theater. They?ve attracted an audience that?s about as diverse and widespread as you could imagine, all income groups, every kind of audience component that you could imagine is there.

I should mention that it?s critically important to supporting a vibrant cultural community to have an arts reporter like Dana Oland who I met in Boise and who?s been involved with the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. She really understands the arts and really covers the beat and, when you have a paper that supports the arts, it makes all the difference. One of the most alarming trends in journalism is the same thing that?s happening at schools?the arts seem to be the first thing that goes. The Idaho Statesman is very enlightened about this, and it?s one of the bastions of progressive outlook about the arts, there?s no question.

On Monday, we also ventured to Twin Falls and Jerome, Idaho. In Jerome Congressman Simpson and I took in a wonderfully frenetic, highly physicalized, 50-minute ?Shakespearience? production of Othello. Shakespearience is an arts education program of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and it receives support through our Shakespeare for a New Generation program. The performance was a delight. The actors were very accomplished, and the kids loved it. They totally engaged in it. I think it?s really important to give kids access to programs like this one. First of all it will be a passion of theirs all their lives in many cases. And it?s creating future theatergoers and future patrons of the arts. And to the extent that the kids are engaged in the arts in the schools, kids tend to stay in school.

And speaking of arts ed, I?m looking forward to sharing a podium with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this afternoon. We?ll be speaking here in DC on ?A Well-Rounded Education in the 21st Century? at the spring conference of the Arts Education Partnership. We?ll post a link on the blog when my comments are available online.

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