From traffic light control boxes wrapped in colorful artwork to multiple murals and sculptures, downtown Boise is home to hundreds of works of public art.
These publicly accessible works are both privately and publicly funded, but are available for viewing by anyone without paying admission. Of course, none of these works would be possible without the artists who create them, and in 2018, the city hired 39 individual artists for public art projects citywide.
Jennifer Yribar with the city’s Department of Arts & History says artists are notified of upcoming opportunities and asked to submit applications. Artists are then selected by a committee from the pool of applicants.
“A selection panel will review each application,” Yribar says. “Once the artist is selected, the artist’s creativity will take effect, allowing them to envision, create and install an art installation.”
According to the Department of Arts & History, the city has a total of 761 city-owned artwork collections — valued at nearly $6.6 million — located at 325 sites throughout Boise. Downtown, these public art installations can be found on street corners, transportation hubs, and even at City Hall and Boise’s Main Library.
The city’s collection is growing, too. A sampling of installations added in 2018 would include the 9th Street Truss Bridge Lighting by Rocky Mountain Electric, and the memorial to Cecil D. Andrus by Benjamin Victor, located in Cecil Andrus Memorial Park. The VRT Main Street Station contains several newer works as well, including “Transit” by Tony Caprai, Urban River by Cassie Phippen and the Banner Mural Series by Larry McNeil.
These public art installations add to the existing, established downtown art scene. Well-known art galleries and destinations such as Freak Alley — filled with murals and graffiti from local artists — have drawn admirers to downtown Boise for years, but the city’s growing artwork collection gives the public even more reason to spend time downtown.
According to the Downtown Boise Association (DBA), public art downtown helps foster a community of what it calls the “creative class.” According to a recent study by the DBA, downtown is where more than 50% of Boise artists create their work, and one in five musicians in the Boise area lives downtown. The Association says that bringing creative people to downtown Boise not only helps maintain a healthy arts community, but acts as a catalyst for economic growth as well.
According to the association’s study, in 2018, $320 million was generated by downtown businesses related to creative industries, and cultural nonprofits downtown saw $14.6 million in sales. All told, the study found that downtown Boise had 40,251 jobs in 2018, which is a 20% increase over five years.
In addition to helping beautify downtown, public art installations help support artists and allow people to see great works of art in the places they visit every day. And as Yribar points out, public art installations are often so well loved, they become an integral part of the city’s identity.
“(Public art) is about recognizing the beautiful details that comprise our community — individual experiences, well-loved activities and our cultural vibrancy,” Yribar says. “By allowing artists to incorporate their vision into the cityscape, we are able to transform and beautify our streets.”
Editor’s note: A photo provided by the Boise Department of Arts & History was credited incorrectly in the print edition of Downtown Boise. The department provided the photo of the Cottonwoods art installation, created in 2017 by by Dwaine Carver and Zachary Hill.