Art Works Blog

Postcard from Idaho

The name of the production I saw at Idaho Shakespeare Festival might be Noises Off, but the laughter was definitely on! Photo by DKM Photography

Last week I headed west to see how art works in Boise, Idaho. It was a great trip! I mean, when you get to spend the day with Esther Simplot, who’s just a smart and engaging arts patron, and Congressman Mike Simpson, how bad can it be? My trip started with a meet-and-greet with the arts community in Boise—the opera folks, the ballet people, the theater crowd, just people from all the different arts. It was especially nice to see the gang from the Egyptian Theater. Last time I was there, they greeted me by putting my name up in lights on the theater’s marquee. (And I’ve got the snapshot in my office to prove it!)

There was a lovely reception at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Center. Our hosts for the reception were Michael Faison who heads the Idaho Commission on the Arts (ICA), Terri Schorzman who heads the Boise City Department of Arts and History, and Mark Hofflund, who runs Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Mark also chairs the ICA’s board and used to be on the NEA’s National Council on the Arts. It was great to visit with Kay Hardy and Gregory Kaslo from the Egyptian Theater, Marilyn Sabella who used to be a commissioner with ICA, and Ballet Idaho’s Paul Kaine and Peter Anastos who also brought along a couple of their board members. Opera Idaho’s Mark Junkert was also there with Marshall and Leslie Garrett from their board as was John Michael Schert of Trey McIntyre Project.

This visit really was like being back with old friends. I think that what you see in Boise is a great example of creative placemaking. For example, the Trey McIntyre Project, which is a nationally and internationally known touring dance company, received a 2011 NEA Our Town grant. They’re using that funding to engage more in their own immediate community directly. We’re talking schools, and hospitals, and the like.

One thing I noticed this trip was that on the street there were banners hanging that proudly proclaimed Boise as an arts city, and a home for the arts, which means that much of the identity of the city now is with the arts. The community is very proud of the vitality and vibrancy of the arts scene in Boise. It’s especially great to visit Boise with someone like Esther Simplot who is not just engaged with the community but does whatever she can to support it financially. Not surprisingly, one of the things we discussed was the importance of the collaboration of private sector support along with local governmental and political support, and how you need that kind of collaboration to have a vibrant creative community.

You know that I’m a theater guy so I was delighted that evening to head to Idaho Shakespeare Festival to see their very well-produced and well-performed rendition of Noises Off. I mean this is just a crackerjack acting company. It was great to be having this arts experience with Mike Simpson and his wife Kathy (and my wife Debby). Mike’s been a champion of the arts now for quite a while, and I’m glad we’ve had a chance to become friends.

When I make these trips I always enjoy meeting artists and arts leaders, and I’m always excited to think about—well, what’s the lesson here? I think in Boise you really do have collaboration there among the arts organizations. Part of it is that they're housed under one building---the Simplot Performing Arts Center---and there's just a spirit there that the arts really make a difference to that town. When I spoke with the folks from Ballet Idaho, they talked about the ways they’ve found to negotiate the financial shoals and just survive, something I think is true of a lot of the arts organizations there.

I think what’s central to what’s going on with the arts people in Boise is that the work that's being done is really being done for that community. It's not with a view of taking it somewhere else. Of course there’s collaboration with other regional organizations---for example, Idaho Shakespeare does work with other theater groups in Cleveland and Tahoe---but really the work is being done for the local audience. They're not a farm team or a way station to someplace else, and you really feel that when you're there. Overall, the community is very engaged and very energized and the arts are a big part of the vitality of that place---there's no doubt about it.

For more on how Art Works in Idaho, check out Michael Faison's guest post for us on an innovative arts education partnership between the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the state's Department of Education.

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