Boise Says Goodbye To ‘Modern Art,’ Hello To The New Deal

May 5, 2016

After nine years, a beloved arts event in downtown Boise is coming to an end. Modern Art (which takes over the Modern Hotel Thursday evening for the last time) began at the height of the Great Recession. Now, the hotel staff says it’s time to retire the event – but not without one big final party.

In 2008, the Modern Hotel opened some of its rooms to local artists for one night in May. The idea was to give artists a new venue to display or perform their work, allowing them to transform their room however they wish. Everyone in the community was invited to come wander the hotel for free. Come and wander they did.

Modern Hotel owner Elizabeth Tullis says she had no idea how heartily Boise would embrace Modern Art.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Chatting in the courtyard of the hotel as the staff preps for Thursday’s big event, Modern Hotel owner Elizabeth Tullis reflects on that first Modern Art. She says she was completely blown away by the hundreds of people who attended it, and every year since.

“I love the ebb and flow of Modern Art,” Elizabeth Tullis says. “Everything is different every year and the spectacle is different.”

Each year people crowd into the rooms and hallways, and spill out into the courtyard and parking lot. Elizabeth’s sister-in-law Kerry Tullis is the curator for the event, and estimates about five thousand people came to Modern Art last year.

Kerry says artists aren’t handed the keys of their rooms until just a few hours before people begin showing up – so it’s a real feat of planning and swift artistry.

“Every artist that comes in – if it’s their first year or their third year or their ninth year – the amount of time, effort and creativity that they put into the rooms is just amazing to me,” Kerry Tullis says.

But Elizabeth and Kerry say it’s time for Modern Art to end. The hotel staff is all-hands-on-deck for three days around the event, as regular guests are booked the night before and after. Elizabeth says that in some ways – Modern Art has outgrown the Modern Hotel. Kerry agrees, and puts an artistic spin on the decision.

Modern Art Curator Kerry Tullis says she's thankful for the more than 500 artists who have contributed over nine years.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

“Like any creative process it kind of comes to an end, and you want to put those energies somewhere else,” Kerry says. “And it’s not the end of the Modern’s process in the arts or the artist community.”

During its nine-year run, Modern Art brought exposure to hundreds of artists during a time when the economy wasn’t doing them many favors. Now with the Great Recession firmly in the rearview mirror, the hotel staff is looking forward to finding new ways to support creativity in Boise. 

Modern Art 2016 will feature more than 40 different projects. One of those projects serves as a sort of bookend to the nine-year run of the event, as well as a record of the dynamism of Boise’s artistic scene.

At the first Modern Art event in 2008 a pair of Boise artists created a project they called The Deal. It featured trading cards of Boise artists and arts organizations – think baseball cards or Pokémon for the local art scene. The Deal was a big hit among artists and art lovers. Now for the final Modern Art, two new artists have revisited the idea.

John Michael Schert is playing dealer with the New Deal. He shuffles the pack of nearly 60 glossy cards with images of art on one side and information about the artist or organization that created it on the other. Schert created the project with Meshel Ledet.

John Michael Schert and Meshel Rene Ledet created the New Deal.
Credit Adam A Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

A card pulled at random shows a detail from a painting of a girl with a dog and a Chinese lantern on one side. On the other, there’s a name: Molly Margaret Hill.

“Molly Hill is a sort of legend in the Boise Art scene,” Schert explains. “She passed away in 2015. Molly was well known for her almost surrealist but also descriptive, Asian-influenced paintings.”

In the New Deal there are a few cards for prominent Boise artists that have died recently. There are also cards for performing art, visual art, film, music, community organizations and food.

A couple more random draws show the Treasure Valley Food Coalition and LED, a dance and music group.

Schert moved to Boise in 2008 with another dance company, the Trey McIntyre Project, which he co-founded. He says his first introduction to Boise’s larger cultural scene was at an art gallery where people were trading cards from the first iteration of this idea, The Deal.

“Everyone was excitedly running around trying to complete their deck,” Schert recalls. “You might have two Sue Lattas but you needed a Bill Lewis, you know. And I remember just feeling electrified. We had made this big decision to move the Trey McIntyre Project here from San Francisco. We knew there was a vibrant, creative scene here but we hadn’t actually interfaced with it or interacted.”

Schert says he’s since collaborated with many of the artists he was first introduced to in the cards of The Deal. He flips through his deck from 2008. There are artists who were barely known then who are well established now, artists who have moved away and organizations that have disbanded. Art is often ephemeral and an “art scene” is even more so.

“So already The Deal is this time capsule of what was ephemeral,” Schert says. “The scene has changed so quickly.”

Even the artists who created The Deal in 2008, Amy Westover and Jennifer Wood, no longer live in Boise. Schert thinks the New Deal will become a sort of time capsule of this moment in the art scene as well.

Some of the New Deal.
Credit Adam A Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Packs of 15 cards will be on sale Thursday night at the Modern Hotel for $15 each. They will have duplicates, Schert says, so trade with your friends.

He and Ledet are planning a similar deck sometime in the future focusing on up-and -oming artists. They’re calling that project The Great Society. 

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