In 2002, Richard Florida wrote a book titled The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life. It soon became a national bestseller. The author suggests cities are "cauldrons of diversity and difference" and "fonts for creativity and innovation," the antithesis of what many city planners see as the key to growth: commerce.
While creativity and capitalism needn't be mutually exclusive, quality of life is often measured not in dollars but in galleries, theaters, concert halls and bookstores—and a community's ability to support those creating the plays, films, performances and publications to fill them.
Boise is home to an incredible array of artists whose work beautifies and strengthens our community, thereby attracting more creativity and, yes, even commerce. We are fortunate they choose to call Boise home, and it would require thousands of pages to profile them all. While we'd be up to the challenge, we don't have the space, so we selected a handful of artists whose work exemplifies what a creative, classy place Boise is.
In May 2016, local author Christian Winn received some news that, even a few months later, he was still wrapping his head around: He was named Idaho's writer-in-residence by the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
"I'm still in shock," Winn said.
Becoming Idaho's writer-in-residence lands Winn among the ranks of renowned Gem State writers like Pulitzer Prize-winning Anthony Doerr (2014's All the Light We Cannot See), New York Times bestselling author Brady Udall (2010's The Lonely Polygamist) and Diane Raptosh (2013's American Amnesiac), Boise's first ever poet laureate.
The fellowship lasts three years, comes with a $10,000 award and provides Winn an opportunity to give readings in communities all across Idaho, particularly in rural areas. He'd like his visits to include interactive elements.
"I'd like to do something collaboratively with local writers or schools," he said. "Maybe bring another writer with me ... or do a workshop or a detailed Q&A along with a reading."
This summer, Winn will begin fulfilling his residence duties, reading from his acclaimed 2014 collection of short stories, Naked Me (Dock Street Press). Even the above-mentioned Doerr is a fan—the blurb on the cover of Naked Me is his: "Winn writes glittering stories about trapped, beaten and restless young people, reluctant adults living under financial pressure and nursing wounds and wearing out their welcomes." Though he's best known for his fiction, he'll also share his poetry and creative non-fiction with Idaho audiences. Even better, Winn hopes by the end of 2016 to have a new book to share: What's Wrong With You Is What's Wrong With Me, a collection of four longer stories or "novelettes."
The line "those who can, do; those who can't, teach," from George Bernard Shaw's early 20th century play Man and Superman couldn't be less true when it comes to Winn. He spends nearly as much time teaching writing as he does writing: He's an award-winning author, an adjunct professor in creative writing at Boise State University (where he received his MFA); he conducts writing camps at The Cabin; he founded Storyfort, the literary arm of the annual Treefort Music Fest; and, in 2003, he created the Writers Write Workshops, an ongoing fiction writing program "with an eye toward publication and/or acceptance into graduate writing programs, or to simply understand better what it means to be a practicing writer." One of the best ways to better understand writing is to read, and Winn has his students explore the likes of Flannery O'Connor's "Writing Short Stories."
"It's an essay, but it's also a really interesting breakdown of story and what stories are meant to do," Winn said. "Writing is as much a craft as it is an art. I like to use the word 'sensibility.' [You have to] establish that sensibility of what is good writing and why it's good, then move toward that in your own writing."
The most common word out of Boise playwright Heidi Kraay's mouth is "how."
In light of her many minor projects, shopping around her new play and establishing a creative cooperative with other dramaturges, one might mistake her core question for, "How am I going to do all this?"
However, Kraay is far more interested in how she can make art work for others: "For me, as a privileged white person who just got an MFA, how can I connect with someone with a completely different background from me."
Kraay has long been a mainstay of Boise's theater scene. After graduating from Boise State University, she became active teaching at The Cabin and performing with practically every theater company in town, including Boise Contemporary Theater and HomeGrown Theatre.
In spring 2016, she received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts from the California Institute of Integral Studies. With her diploma in hand, she'll work with development theater companies to put How to Hide Your Monster, the play she wrote as part of her studies, on stage.
The play, which has already received stage readings at HomeGrown Theatre and Boise Contemporary Theater, explores fear and how it changes relationships between people. In writing it, Kraay made conscious connections to personal, social and political tensions she saw in the real world—tensions, she said, that are addressed by her area of study and artistic philosophy.
"It's really easy to be against each other; it's easy to disconnect and it's easy to fall into patterns of, 'How do I become about me against you?' but I think by learning, we're getting better," Kraay said. "I'm getting much more interested in the things happening socially right now that need to be uncovered."
For her, theater is all about connections, like her developing dramatic collaboration with Sarah Gardner and Tracy Sunderland, Migration Theory, that got its start during Boise Contemporary Theater's production of "SuperSecretSiteSpecificSomething" in 2015.
Nevertheless, she's also decompressing with "lots of short projects" like 10-minute plays, essays and poems before getting to work on her next big project: a children's play that deals with loss, grief and friendship.
Like much of her previous work, it will be about communicating complicated problems in ways anyone can understand.
"How do we bring this world of grief and articulate it to children?" she said.
Youth Lagoon's critically acclaimed music video for "Montana" (2011) has been viewed on YouTube more than 16,000 times and counting. A meditation on coming to terms with adulthood and the past, it has been compared to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, and was a breakout moment for its editor and assistant director, Boise filmmaker Ron Torres.
"It was this perfect storm of right filmmaker, right musician, right moment for Boise music and also the idea of Internet content starting blowing up," he said. "It came together as a launching point for us to start doing things in a more legitimate way."
"Montana" was more than Torres' launch pad, however—it's also an exemplar of his work. Recognition and success have come gradually for Torres. He picked up a camera for the first time at age 12 and never put it down. Torres worked for five years making corporate films for Bodybuilding.com and recently became involved in the Buck the Quo campaign, which is geared toward helping Idaho high schoolers plot a fulfilling post-graduation life plan.
Now, he said, the time is ripe to pursue more creative, personal filming projects that touch on themes similar to those in his work with Youth Lagoon.
"It's time for me to start focusing on projects that zero in on my voice more," he said.
Those projects have included works like his award-winning 2016 i48 Film Festival entry, Family Outage. His short film Jason, Torres said, marked the moment when Boiseans began to see him as primarily a filmmaker. Currently he's working on a screenplay for a feature-length film, Steggy, in which he'll play a man who begins identifying as a dinosaur after inheriting a large sum of money from a dead family member.
"A lot of people think I grew this beard for hipster purposes," Torres said, noting the cascade of reddish hair that nearly covers his chest "but there's been a character in my head for about two years now that hinges on this idea of what do you do with wealth and your means."
Torres moved to Boise at age 18 from Pocatello, and he said the City of Trees has been good to him. Though he said his upbringing in Pocatello continues to make him feel like an outsider, starting his film career and founding creative space Studio 208 (951 E. Front St.) has him optimistic about his future and that of Boise's film culture.
"There are amazing peers in this city. It's an amazing time to be a maker here," he said.
More than 35 years ago, Marla Hansen took a job dancing with American Festival Ballet in Moscow, Idaho. When AFB moved to Boise, Hansen and her husband Alfred came with it. Hansen danced with AFB—which would eventually change its name to Ballet Idaho—for nine years before leaving to co-found Idaho Dance Theatre with her husband in 1989. Though her background was in traditional ballet, she wanted IDT to embody a more modern approach.
"Idaho Dance Theatre is a contemporary company with ballet- and technical-based dancers, but they can also do hip-hop, breakdancing and improvisation," said Hansen, IDT's artistic director.
Since soon after its inception, IDT has been associated with Boise State University, and many think it's a part of the Theatre Arts Department. It's not.
"The only thing we have with Boise State University is a memorandum of agreement," Hansen said. "We're a professional company in residence, we have our own board of directors, we are fiscally separate."
The perception that IDT and the university are connected is understandable: The company rehearses and performs on campus, and Hansen has been a Theatre Arts faculty member since shortly after she started IDT.
"[Back then] Boise State had just three [dance] classes, all beginner levels. There was ballet, jazz and, of all things, a choreography class," Hansen said.
The university offers a minor in dance and a look at currently available courses shows offerings in ballet, jazz, modern, pointe, repertory and even movement and dance for performing artists.
The increase in courses coupled with IDT's broad dance spectrum have opened the door for both people who want a career in dance and those who don't necessarily, but who do want to include it in their curriculum or lifestyle.
"Dancers come to Boise State to get a degree and then realize they can dance and get paid as well. And one of the most amazing dancers we ever had now has a Ph.D. in physics," Hansen said.
It's a feat for any organization to be around four decades, particularly a non-profit arts organization. Hansen is proud not only of IDT's longevity but also of what the company has accomplished both internally and externally.
"What is to me the coolest thing ever is that we are still working, creating and building dance artists and giving opportunities for choreographers, dancers and audiences to experience the kind of dance that normally you wouldn't experience unless you were in a large city," Hansen said. "The thing I'm so grateful for is that we have been able to make a career doing something a lot of people would think was darn near impossible in a city of this size. ... I feel like it has been an amazing process, and it's not over. "
In 2015, Greg Bayne released his feature-length documentary, Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man, the story of the first man exonerated by DNA evidence. The following year, he helped make Carbon, the beautiful science fiction short film about a woman killing her doppelgangers. After years of producing films with heavy subject matter, Bayne is jumping into lighter-hearted fare.
"It's such a weird story. I just had 'self-help book,' 'robbery,' 'salesman' and sort of played with it from there," he said.
That "weird story" is 6 Dynamic Laws for Success in Life, Love & Money, which Bayne hopes to release in 2017 in time for the film festival circuit.
The film centers on a con man who believes the location of money stolen during a bank robbery has been coded into a 1960s-era self-help book. Shot in black-and-white, 6 Dynamic Laws will have a noir feel and evoke screwball comedies of the 1940s.
"This is interesting for me, because I'd done feature work before; I've done documentary features; but in terms of a narrative script, it's so far removed from the stuff I've been doing," Bayne said.
Like many filmmakers, Bayne has experience with every aspect of film production. After attending Vancouver Film School in British Columbia in the early 1990s, he made his first feature.
"It was not good," he said. "I did not, at 21 or 22, have storytelling chops."
Still, for the next decade he worked editing, shooting and photography jobs on other directors' sets. The experience gave him competence in a variety of filmmaking disciplines, preparing him to make more mature films when he returned to directing. The editing experience has come in particularly handy.
"It's sort of like someone has a bag of sentences and says, 'Write a book.' It's important to find emotion in a story all from existing footage," he said. "It has been a training ground for me for storytelling."
Bayne splits his time between Nampa and New York, where his wife teaches, and said he keeps ties to Idaho because of the Gem State's unique landscape, which he said isn't often represented in film.
His other reason for choosing Idaho is its positive filmmaking culture.
"I outlined this script in January and started shooting in early June," he said of 6 Dynamic Laws. "There was an attitude [among the people he worked with] like, 'Yeah, let's do this.'
Like so many musicians, Andrew Stensaas grew up in a musical family. The youngest of four siblings—and the only boy—he was often conscripted into his sisters' shows.
"I'm the youngest by five years," Stensaas said. "The girls would put on full performances of Grease and The Music Man. They'd put the music on the record player and we'd dance and sing. We'd do the whole thing. They loved it. Sometimes, they'd even create their own shows."
It wasn't just the kids who performed. Stensaas' mother was in a gospel trio that toured churches in the Midwest from their home in Mason City, Iowa.
When Stensaas was 10 years old, the family moved to Boise after his father took a job with an insurance company. Stensaas continued with music, gravitating to the drums and, at age 19, forgoing a degree in business with a finance emphasis, he packed up and headed to Portland, Ore. to start a band.
"My family was skeptical, but I was pretty determined," he said.
As with his business degree, the drummer wanted to try something else.
"It was the first time I wanted to approach singing," the 35-year-old Stensaas said. "I was influenced by a lot of music. The oddest influence was Tool [and] Maynard James Keenan's singing."
Stensaas was drawn to Keenan's scream and "aggressive nature" and wanted to blend those aspects with a pop or rock sound. Then he saw Tool live.
"I'd never seen anything like that," he said, a hint of awe still in his voice. "The theatrics and the strong [musicianship] was so visceral. I loved the drama but also the intelligence with which they approached all the facets of what they were doing, from lyrical content to exploring concept. I was blown away."
Soaring on what he called a "huge epiphany" following that show, Stensaas did start a band. With a video on MTV2 and a growing fan base, the band was headed to the next level—until infighting, a lack of management and a national recession pushed them off the path completely.
Feeling defeated and unable to find work, Stensaas hung his head and moved back to Boise. Now a multi-instrumentalist, he continued to play music, taught at Boise Rock School for a few years, started a band with friend and BRS co-founder Ryan Peck, and met his future wife and collaborator, dancer/choreographer Lauren Edson, with whom he co-founded LED, a performance-art collective of original dance, music and multimedia, in 2015.
"We decided this is what we want to do for a living," Stensaas said. "Right now it's a modest living, but I think all of these components of our lives set us up in such a way that we're confident about what we're doing. We didn't have any expectations other than we wanted to make sure what we were creating was the best stuff we'd ever created every time. That's what we're going for."
Local choreographer/dancer Lauren Edson began training when she was tiny. At the age of 3, she was doing more in a day than many adults do in a week.
"When I was really young, my mom put my sister and me in just about anything. I was in gymnastics and swimming and sports and music. I was incredibly shy. I think my mom thought I was mute," Edson said, laughing. "In social situations, I was just really awkward and introverted and was really only connected to my mom and a few close friends."
She couldn't vocalize her feelings but, even as a toddler, Edson did have something to say. She discovered her voice in dance.
"I found really quickly that it was the perfect vehicle for expressing myself and being creative," Edson said. "I always remember at a very young age I was making dances, or dancing, or just finding a space to create movement. Being on stage, I found that although there was a vulnerability to it, I felt like I was being seen in a way I hadn't been in other situations."
Now in her early 30s, Edson is still rather quiet and reserved... at least off stage. Onstage, she's like a four-star general: confident and commanding.
"[Off stage], I like to take a situation in and try to navigate it. ... I tend to be more reluctant. I don't really want attention," Edson said.
When she's performing, however, she enjoys attention. It's not a persona; she really likes the "juxtaposition of weaving in and out" of these parts of her.
"[Onstage] is me in the most heightened, exaggerated version in some ways," Edson said. "I had a teacher that talked about performing like you have 'Spock ears' on: You're super alert, aware of your surroundings, and giving and receiving the energy of the audience. I find that performing is really the most euphoric state for me. I feel completely present and invested, but also like my body is guiding me in a way that I don't even have control of."
Edson does like being in control, too, and a few years ago began dedicating more of her time to choreography. When her desire to create her own work surpassed her joy in fulfilling someone else's vision, she started her own project, which morphed into LED, a performance-art collective co-founded by her favorite collaborator, local musician/husband Andrew Stensaas.
LED's debut work—This Side of Paradise, an exploration of the relationship between F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald—was a success and confirmed Edson and Stensaas work well together.
"I'd never collaborated with anyone in that way before," Edson said. "There was a real sense that we could share with each other what we wanted in the work ... and we created in such a way that we were not holding on to what we had but bringing our knowledge and intuition and putting it together in a way that felt like it was greater than either of us."