Art on the Airwaves 

Radio series paints aural portraits of Idaho artists

Listen carefully and this summer on Boise State Radio, you'll hear Eloise Little embroidering porcupine quills in Fort Hall, Anthony Doerr composing his next novel in Boise, or Lawrence Smart varnishing a custom mandolin in McCall. If you thought art was purely a visual media, you're in for a pleasant surprise as Boise State Radio unveils "Art & Soul," its new radio series profiling Idaho artists. Reporters Jyl Hoyt and Guy Hand travel throughout the state interviewing writers, painters, weavers, musicians, folk artists and others who have earned national or state recognition. Along the way, Hoyt and Hand create a little art of their own: painting audio pictures through the craft of radio storytelling.

"Art & Soul" is a collaboration between Boise State Radio and the Idaho Commission on the Arts. ICA's Cort Conley said the series is part of the National Endowment for the Arts' American Masterpieces national initiative, which was developed to "introduce Americans to the best of their cultural and artistic legacy."

"Over the last 25 years, Idaho has evolved to the point that it now has a reservoir of extraordinary artists of national caliber," says Conley. "For example, in painting, there had been Mary Hallock Foote for 10 years, Joseph McMeekin for 20 years and James Castle for a lifetime. Now, there are worthy, imperfectly recognized artists in every field and medium."

Sadie Babits, Boise State Radio news director, hopes the series will help connect listeners to Idaho artists. "Idaho artists are so diverse," she says, "from saddlemakers to poets to painters to dancers. It's important to tell their stories to give (listeners) a sense of place and an understanding of the world around them as told through arts and culture."

Several of the artists interviewed for the series adamantly opined that Idaho's isolation and rough splendor definitely contribute to their creativity. "My lifestyle choice outweighs the need to be near an 'arts center,'" explains luthier Smart, who skis, hikes and fishes in the mountains surrounding McCall. "My instruments better reflect who I am and what I make by virtue of how I live here. I'm really fortunate to have a craft that I can do here—and thank God for Fed X."

Author Anthony Doerr, whose book The Shell Collector was a New York Times Notable Book of 2002, believes that residing in Idaho is conducive to the creative process. "I like living outside of New York because I feel so much more protected from the negative competitiveness that can affect especially young writers," he says. "When I was in Brooklyn, everyone was very conscious of who had won what award and who your distributor was. But writing is a democratic art form. It can come out of Guam, Cuba, Manhattan or Boise. Just because I don't go to cocktail parties with Salmon Rushdie, it doesn't hurt me as an artist."

The wide range of artistic expression is exactly what Hoyt and Hand hope to convey to the listener. "The series excites me because you don't often get an opportunity to look at a group of people statewide—from beaders to saddlemakers," says Hand. "'Art & Soul' really expands the boundaries. It's a comprehensive look at art in Idaho and that's unique."

Babits describes "Art & Soul" as a "sound-rich" series, which explains why the series will be able to eloquently capture a full sense of arts that would otherwise be silent and solitary. "The craft of radio storytelling merges creative writing with human voices and natural sounds to create an image and a story, sort of like sitting down with a good book," she says. "These elements combine to transport a listener to a new place, whether that place is Iraq, the middle of the ocean on a science expedition or into an artist's studio. The power of radio relies on the sounds around us—the sounds we often ignore—to help build these scenes that take you, the listener, on an incredible adventure."

Hoyt, who also creates radio stories for KBSU's "Sense of Place," is a seasoned interviewer. "I learned years ago that artists are fabulous storytellers: beautifully verbal and fascinating to interview," she says. "This series is a win-win-win situation for the artists, the listeners and me."

Hand, whose work has aired on NPR's "Living on Earth" and "The Splendid Table," says he approaches each story as an innocent bystander, because that's what the listener is. "You could say I go into each situation empty-headed and open-minded," he laughs. "Each individual story evolves on location. We literally create an environment with sounds that relates to that place. We collect sounds such as the sound of the weaver's loom or a summer stream that help to paint the picture of where the artists work or where they live."

Conley, who is known for his iconic guidebook, Idaho for the Curious, sums up the commission's greater purpose in providing the foundation for "Art & Soul." "We are persuaded that introducing these artists to a wider audience in Idaho will encourage cultural respect, admiration, inspiration and, heaven forbid, even regional hauteur," he says. "There are enough 'garage moment' radio programs out there—radio so awful you want to drive into your garage, put the door down and leave the motor running—that we thought we could surely contribute something better." Adds Hand, "What's really wonderful about radio is how it can tell stories in ways no other medium can. What makes it powerful is the emotion in the human voice."

Tune in to "Art & Soul" during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" through December, and hear what creativity sounds like.

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