The Boise Art Scene, started by Morgan McCollum, is a collection of local art. McCollum does interviews, takes pictures and puts a spotlight on the local art scene. Boise Weekly interviewed him to find out how it started and where all of his passion for art came about.
BW: What is Boise Art Scene and how did it come together?
MM: Boise Art Scene is a passion project I started in January of 2020 after being struck by how much art was publicly available in the city I had never noticed. My goal is to highlight local artists working in and around the Treasure Valley. Every two weeks I upload a new five minute video showcasing a new artist. Some of the artists I interview are well known in the area, some are just starting to emerge, but they’re all wonderfully amazing creative people.
When I transferred to Boise State University in 2017 to work on my Media Production BA I was at first annoyed at the lack of online options for classes which had been abundant at CWI. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise since it forced me to spend time in Boise and actually led me to develop an appreciation for the city. In one of my last few semesters at Boise State I decided to take a weekend workshop class to earn an odd amount of elective credit I needed to fulfil a requirement. The most interesting looking one to me at the time had something to do with art and cities and culminated in a walking tour of downtown. The workshop was taught by Dr. Leslie Durham and Dr. Amanda Ashley from Boise State who brought in various arts professionals from the area to speak to the class. Among the speakers at the class were Karl LeClair and Karen Bubb from the City of Boise Arts and History Department. Karl led the walking tour and I was amazed at how much art was around right in front of my eyes that I would have never noticed without someone pointing it out. Through the rest of my time at Boise State I dabbled in creating videos about local art. Karen and Karl were both always gracious with their time and knowledge and were always patient as I would fumble through my early interviewing attempts with them. The videos I created for classes then are still a fond memory for me but the videography skills on display were certainly amateur.
Those old assignment videos are still publicly available on YouTube although they won’t ever appear on the Boise Art Scene pages since they’re not up to my current standards. My senior project is the one exception and was the first video I uploaded for this project last January. Although the interviews are shot at angles and locations that make me cringe now, the B-roll and story of that video still hold up. I’ll never forget the overarching feedback I got from my capstone peers though; “It’s too long”. No commentary about the content or the hours I’d spent traveling, researching, and recording things all over town. Just primarily comments about how it was too long to hold their attention. It was after that feedback I realized if I wanted to spread awareness of local art I needed to do it in a digestible way for modern viewers.
I graduated from Boise State University with my BA in Communication, Media Production in May 2019 and started to collect a few nicer pieces of gear to try and pursue my freelance interests. Around December I had enough gear that I felt I could finally make the artist videos I had in my mind a reality so I decided I would start in January. It seemed like 2020 was going to be a great year; a new decade of the roaring 20’s, Cinco De Mayo on a Taco Tuesday and starting off my new social media endeavor. I uploaded my senior project to my new YouTube channel the first week of January to kick things off. I decided to reach out to Karen Bubb, since she had helped me out so many times in the past, and see if she would be interested in being a test subject for the new experiment I was trying. Much to my surprise she was willing to let me come to her studio and do an interview about her art that weekend. I was surprised by the speed I needed to actually start things but I was grateful to have my first interviewee scheduled. At first I didn’t know how often I would be able to post or even what the videos were going to be aside from five minutes long. I planned to do one video a month since I was employed full time and working Tuesday-Saturday. I figured I could take one weekend a month, shoot a video, and upload it. I decided I could keep up a bi-weekly pace since I could shoot a video one week and edit it the next week before shooting another video the following week. I shot at least two interviews a month until around March when everything started to close down and I started to wonder if my project was doomed. I wanted to start a new art journalism institution in Boise. I wanted to cover all the live art events that happen every summer all over the valley. I wanted to establish myself in the arts community by having a presence at every event I could go to and showcase the Artist Sit Downs I was making. I saw all of those hopes fading before my eyes as event after event got canceled and the world fell into lockdown. I felt if I lost momentum my ADHD would kick in and I would lose my interest in the project and it would forever be a failure I would never come back to. Luckily my decision to pace myself and not pump out videos as fast as possible paid off in the form of having several interviews sitting on my hard drive waiting to be edited which allowed me to take a couple months off from actively interviewing people while maintaining my bi-weekly posting schedule. By the time I had edited my last pre-pandemic interview we knew more about COVID-19 and with precautions and guidelines in mind I started to reach out to artists again.
I was able to keep up my pace until around November last year when my job changed and holiday scheduling conflicts finally caught up to me. I missed a couple of my deadlines and started to feel discouraged since that is normally the precursor to my brain giving up on a project. The unintended break was actually good since it gave me a chance to reflect on what I’d done in 2020 and how I wanted to move forward in 2021. The positive impact I was having on the artists I interviewed and the happy comments from people when they watched my videos made me want to push through the holiday funk I was in and keep this project going. In January I got back on the horse and started doing interviews again. For a couple months around the beginning of the year I found a person to help edit my videos to get some reel work and her name out there. I edited the interviews for time and content and she would arrange the B-roll in exchange for an editor credit which you can see on the videos she was involved with. Unfortunately for me she found gainful employment and moved on. She took some of the load off my shoulders when I needed it though and definitely helped keep the project afloat. Despite the setbacks I put out 22 interviews in 2020 which means I only missed four potential releases and with everything that happened last year I still feel like that is an accomplishment. I’ll probably put out a similar number of interviews this year with a more intentional holiday break for relaxation.
As of May I “hired” a social media manager friend to take care of posting on Instagram and Facebook for me since that was another thing I had let fall to the wayside. I still write posts sometimes, much to her chagrin I’m sure, but she’s been doing amazing and greatly improved the quality of posts on the Boise Art Scene pages (you can always tell which one of us authored a post). I am a one man band when it comes to shooting and editing my Artist Sit Downs. Many artists work out of their homes so during the pandemic I wanted to maintain as small a footprint as possible but now that I’m vaccinated and guidelines are changing I have been thinking about finding someone to take along on shoots to help out- maybe.
BW: Please speak about your background and what you do.
MM: I went back to college in 2014 after dropping out 10 years prior. I had been installing cable since 2006 and was burnt out in a bad way so I enrolled at CWI, quit my job and started working part-time at Channel 6 in Nampa as a teleprompter operator. I stayed with 6 through several promotions and my graduation but in August I moved on and started working for Idaho Public Television as a Director/Videographer. This project is a hobby/passion project I do for myself and the community in my spare time out of a desire to spread awareness of how vibrant the Treasure Valley arts community really is.
When I was in high school the MTV show Jackass became a huge hit and being skateboarders my friend group all decided we were going to film ourselves doing our own version. It was over those years I developed an interest in shooting video and editing content together. About a year into my first go of college (2004) I started dating my wife and found out she and her family would be moving to Idaho before long so I decided to come along. In February of 2005 we moved to Wilder, a small farming area 20-30 minutes from anything noteworthy in any direction. It was a drastic change from my Northern California upbringing living in a small-by California standards- city where everything you could possibly want is within walking distance. My work installing cable took me all over the west side of the Treasure Valley but I avoided Boise due to its physical distance and my perceptions of the city as having more people than I wanted to deal with at any given moment. But after being forced to spend time in the city I discovered a love for the culture it has and a desire to share what I found with people.
BW: I think for as small as Boise is there’s a large amount of art coming out of the Treasure Valley, are you continually amazed at how much new work you find?
MM: The amount of practicing artists in our region is astounding. When I first started my Instagram I planned to follow each local artist who followed me. I stopped after about 200 because there were just so many coming in. Everywhere you look there are people doing amazing things. When you drive through downtown and see all the painted windows, that was an artist. When you walk past the Egyptian theater, those windows were hand designed by Noel Weber. The Veltex sign’s neon was made by Wil Kirkman at Rocket Neon on 6th and Myrtle. The traffic box program from the city creates a low barrier of entry for artists to gain coveted experience as “public artists”.
All that being said, everywhere has artists and their presence doesn’t make Boise unique. What makes Boise a special place for artists is in part the support they can get from organizations like the city’s arts and history department, the Alexa Rose Foundation and others. The traffic box program, the percent for art ordinance, grants for artistic pursuits, it all has a huge impact on making the city more welcoming to artists.
There are two things I always hear from artists; they need space and they need places to show. The increasing cost of living is making it harder for artists to exist in Boise since they can’t find affordable space. The gentrification of Garden City has started pushing people out of what has traditionally been a lower income haven for artists. The Surel’s district is still a great place to find local artists working in all sorts of mediums but that area too is being revamped. The lack of show space has come up innumerable times in interviews, especially with younger artists who find it hard to either get into one of the established galleries or who’s art style might not fit within a traditional gallery setting.
There is never a shortage of artists I am able to find to reach out to. I keep a list of names artists recommend to me as kind of “priority” names. I’ve been keeping the list since the beginning but only started working off it this year. Last year was entirely finding people on Instagram or who had done public art in some form. Even trying to work from the list I will find a new intriguing artist on Instagram and suddenly I’m over there interviewing them. There are a few artists out there I’ve been interested in interviewing but the pieces haven’t fallen in place yet. The Treasure Valley is full of amazing creative individuals who are out there honing their craft everyday. The variety of art on display in Freak Alley is indicative of the range of artists we have in the valley. Represented there are muralists, mosaic creators, writers, tattoo artists. All over downtown there are examples of sculpture. Hidden in the sidewalks are stamped rivers or fallen leaves. People seeing all the headlines about our state might get the perception Idaho lacks a diverse arts culture but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We have people of many cultures creating in a plethora of ways and audiences who celebrate them.
BW: What is some of the coolest stuff you’ve seen lately and what can people look forward to seeing from Boise Art Scene?
MM: I always get excited when I go to interview someone. As a kid I loved to take things apart and see how they worked. This is an adult form of that. I get to see the behind the scenes of how an artist creates their work and share that with others. I think one of the coolest things I’ve seen recently was the Boise Phil’s season finale concert and getting a behind the scenes all access pass to wander around the stage as an orchestra performed. The most amazing part was that they reached out to me. It really made me feel like what I’m doing was getting noticed to have an organization like that reach out to me about covering their season. Other stuff I’ve always thought was awesome is glasswork and this year I’ve made it a point to reach out to artists who work in three dimensional material. I sat down with Wil Kirkman or Rocket Neon and got to watch him melt a glass tube, fill it with argon and then zap it with thousands of volts until the tube heated up to 500+ degrees. It was the most intense neon lightbulb I’ve ever seen but after the burn in period and once getting attached to normal voltage it was just a beautiful blue cursive word. Last weekend I sat down with glass artist Zion Warne in Garden City and he created a colorful glass tree in a flurry right before my eyes. I got to watch him work the glass like taffy and cut into it with scissors all to create a convincing final product.
On the horizon for Boise Art Scene I am working with former interviewees to get some shirts designed, we’re still in the preliminary stages of it but I’m planning to profit share any sales from the design with the artists. That is a model I have been thinking about for the future of my project. My goal has always been to bring awareness and accessibility to the art scene so I think a way to do that is to be a kind of gallery if I can. Because this is basically a hobby project for me I don’t have the money for a physical space, but I have been thinking about “curating” an online gallery of sorts, more of a marketplace where interested artists I’ve featured could sell their work through my pages or website. That one is still mostly a pipedream but sometimes things happen quickly so maybe it’ll come together soon.
When I first started Boise Art Scene I would transcribe the full interviews and post them in a text form on my blog. It gives people who want more from an artist a chance to read the entire interview and get the details that ended up on the cutting room floor. I fell out of the habit of doing that since it was so time consuming to proof-read, but all the pieces are coming back together to start posting the text versions of my interviews in full again soon.
BW: How do people find Boise Art Scene and how can they support it?
MM: I just bought the domain BoiseArtScene.com which currently redirects to my blog. It will be coming back to life soon where people can find the full, mostly unedited interviews I conduct in text format.
If people want to support me they can help expand the page’s reach by liking and subscribing on the various platforms I post to and sharing videos/posts with their art loving friends. I reached the 100 subscriber milestone on YouTube and was able to create a custom URL for my channel, it can now be found at YouTube.com/BoiseArtScene. My videos get posted in their highest quality on YouTube and then I post them with burned in captions for accessibility on Facebook, facebook.com/boiseartscene and Instagram, instagram.com/boiseartscene still in high quality but the latter two tend to downscale the video from full quality.
If people want to support me financially they can subscribe on Patreon at patreon.com/BoiseArtScene A $1 or higher monthly donation gives patrons early access to videos before they’re public; as soon as I upload them in most cases. If someone wanted to discuss a larger donation I am always responsive on Instagram or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Starting soon I will create a limited category for patrons to have their names listed as an end credits on my video. This could be an avenue for local businesses or artists to publicly show they support this project. I will keep it limited to a set number of maximum names so it doesn’t become overloaded if I someday get a large number of patrons.