On a recent Monday night, the SPARK group led by Candy Canning met in the Gem Center for the Arts to share creative work that was, well, “sparked” by the word "ember:" a construction creating fire and smoke, a new plant started from a 30-year-old plant, music, a glass mosaic, among others. The new word for this month is "oasis" and anyone is welcome to share a creative work inspired by the word and join a creative community at the next SPARK meeting, Monday, June 12 at 6 p.m. Bringing a treat to share would not be unwelcome. You might even see me there with a poem.
I mention SPARK first, because its creation was the genesis for what is today the Catalyst Arts Collaborative, housed in the Gem Center for the Arts at 2417 W. Bank Drive, a turn off Vista Avenue at the iconic sign of the endlessly scrubbing washerwoman. Canning is the visionary driving force behind the Gem Center, Catalyst and SPARK, which is just one of its many programs. “My medium is people. I like to connect with people and to facilitate growth in other people,” she explains.
Twenty-five years ago while a college student, Canning was assigned to create a project with a vision — and a business plan. Her idea was a community arts center which would be a place for artists to create and grow, as well as a place for them to interact with the community. Now, 13 years after coming to Boise, she has found a way to make that long-ago idea a reality. The building housing the Gem Center for the Arts was transformed into an arts center with classroom and exhibition spaces, a clay studio, a black box theater, and 22 artists’ studios. After completion in 2018 it received the Mayor’s Choice Building Excellence Award (BOMA).
Canning now directs Catalyst and its many moving parts. A rich array of classes is offered on-site and in other locations around the valley at an incredibly reasonable price, and they are scheduled both in the evenings and on weekends, as well as during the day. The website lists art classes for beginners and advanced students, and for kids and adults. Summer camp offerings are now listed. Scholarships are available and are created through an annual fund raiser and other donations.
But offering classes is just the beginning. The genius of Catalyst is the connections it makes, and the web of artists and arts organizations across our community who are tied together under its umbrella. One impressive example is a mentorship program which pairs experienced artists with aspiring artists in a three-month program. The goal is that the artists spend 60 hours on reaching a goal which is decided in collaboration with their paired mentors. Other than that, the project is open-ended in that the artists and their mentors devise a plan and a structure for the experience. This year the mentoring artists are Genie Sue Weppner, ceramics; Mark Davis, painting; Jenny Williams, painting; and Nica Lorber, mixed media artist. The artists (or “mentees”) are Katie Wells, Aryssa Hutchins, Riley Walker, Victoria Christensen, and Angie Aparicio. Applications for both mentors and artists are on the Catalyst website. The mentorship program was originally developed by Wendy Blickenstaff of BOSCO (Boise Open Studios Collective Organization), but it has been turned over to Catalyst as a partner that is in a better position to carry it forward.
One reason that the Gem Building is located on the bench is that it is in an underserved area. Catalyst partners with Title I schools on the bench advocating for the arts at various school events, and they are finding other ways to reach out to school-aged kids living in the area. This year they partnered with Ming Studios for the recent “Insight of Youth” exhibitions and they plan to be involved in next year’s youth project with Ming Studios. It is exciting to think of what will emerge in coming years from this inclusive and welcoming collaborative.
Two upcoming events allow the valley community to get a taste of what Catalyst is about. An exhibit of work by both artists and mentors opens this week at Catalyst’s Bank Street location, on Saturday, May 20 from 4 to 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and it is free and open to the public. Then on June 4, Catalyst will partner with “Art & Roses” to be held in the rose garden in Julia Davis Park, offering a figure drawing class during the event. Area artists will show and sell their work, and other interactive events are planned. The current organizer of the event, Ellen Wilson, has decided that Catalyst, with its community-oriented programming, will be the primary organizer for Art & Roses in the future.
As I get more deeply into writing about art for the Boise Weekly, I now understand my role as more reporter than critic or reviewer. When I look around for the next thing to cover, I am amazed at the number and variety of art-related spaces, projects, exhibits, and ambitions growing in our midst and generated by artists and art lovers alike. This very de-centralized and spontaneous blooming of art suggest that the city of trees is, in reality, also a city of art.
And Now: Something Else
Paper + Post is an international Mail Art exhibition open now in the gallery on the second floor of the Boise State Student Union until May 28. Curators Lorelle Rau and Debra Mulnick issued an open call for "Mail Art" asking artists to respond to the question, "How has living with the pandemic for the past three years changed you?" There is a connection to Catalyst. Mulnick volunteered to offer a free collage and Mail Art class with Canning for community members at Catalyst. Materials were provided to create collages for the exhibit. They are featured in their own section of the exhibit as Catalyst Arts Collective.
Driek Zirinsky, a collector and a writer, loves living with art all around.