By Richard White, November 19, 2013
Recently I have been a bit obsessed with the idea of how to add more fun into the “everyday” urban experience. One of the most unexpected and fun experiences we’ve had recently was the discovery of “Freak Alley” in downtown Boise, Idaho. As a former artist who initiated the “Street Art for Gleichen” project in the early ‘80 and later as public gallery curator, art critic and reviewer, Boise’s outdoor art gallery was very intriguing to me. Freak Alley is accessed from Bannock Street and runs between 8th and 9th Streets.
There was some serendipity involved as we arrived around the same time as a dance company of young teens and preteens who were using the space for a photo shoot. Good urban spaces are incubators for surprises!
While almost every city (large and small) now has a “First Thursday or First Friday” art program and lots have historic mural programs, Boise’s “Freak Alley” is more unique and makes a contemporary statement about Boise’s emergence as an urban playground.
While at first glance most would see the space as “graffiti gone wild,” once you take some time to look and ponder the art you realize it is a contemporary exhibition with strong political and personal artistic statements.
As I understand it, Freak Alley began in 2002 when local artist Colby Akers painted a doorway in the alley. It was well received so he asked other building owners if they would allow artists to paint their doors and wall and when they agreed he asked other artists join in the fun!
Today, Akers still manages Freak Alley reviewing proposals from both local and out-of-town artists to have their artwork exhibited for one year. Perhaps it is the temporary nature of the artwork that allows it to be seedy and edgy, as opposed to the refined work seen in public galleries and juried public artworks. There was definitely more excitement at “Freak Alley” then when we checked-out BAM aka Boise Art Museum.
Sanitized Street Art
Downtown Boise is also home to several more traditional street art/murals. The one we enjoyed the most was “Penny Post Cards” by Mark Baltes, which is a collage of images from actual penny postcards from the late 19th Century. These postcards depicted the beautiful buildings and streets of downtown Boise. It is interesting to see how the downtown's sense of place has evolved over the past 100 years ago. The mural is a dual-faced artwork that changes as you walk around it evolving from abstraction to realism depending on your perspective. The artwork is prominently located on the north wall of Boise’s City Hall on Idaho Street, between Capitol Blvd and 6th Street.
You can find more information about Boise’s extensive collection of public art, as well as its architecture and history at Boise Art and History - everything from Egyptian Revival architecture to pagoda turrets.
Traffic Box & Transit Shelter Art
Many cities have decorated their ugly grey utility boxes with local artwork or images of the city’s history. But the art on Boise’s boxes is not just for beautification purposes, while some look a little amateurish and are not much more than decoration, many had a punch and an edge you don’t often find with this kind of street art.
I was personally impressed with a “pop art” piece I found in the Linen District depicting a bear, an elephant, a young girl and a weight lifter. It has an interesting ambiguity that I found puzzling and intriguing at the same time. I like art that makes me think - work for an understanding. Click here to learn more.
For a city of 212,000 people (600,000 metro), Boise has an impressive downtown that is quickly evolving into a fun urban playground with a strong culinary and café culture, as well as interesting art scene. If you are in the area it is definitely worth exploring.