Face of Boise: Jon Swarthout 

TRICA founder works to bring art to the kids of Boise

It's hard not to get caught up in Jon Swarthout's excitement as he stands in the middle of the raw skeleton that will one day be filled with the energy of a children's art center.

Remnants of old art projects and fundraisers hang amid the bleached-white walls and red steel beams of the gutted historic Eastman Church in Boise's North End. But when Swarthout, executive director of the Treasure Valley Institute for Children's Art, looks at the bare floors and walls taken down to studs, he sees performance spaces and studios for visual arts, culinary classes and music.

"Arts have a unique power to create inspiration in children," he said. "Once they tap into that, they'll live and create out of that. They are inspired, passionate and driven in whatever they do.

"We're not creating professional artists, but it spills over into every aspect of their lives," he added.

Swarthout, 44, founded TRICA--originally called the Children's Dance Institute--16 years ago and has watched it evolve to include multiple artistic disciplines and take arts programs into public schools in both Boise and Meridian, serving thousand of children between the ages of 2 and 12.

"Provide children with these cultural experiences [and] it makes them better people," he said.

Six years ago, TRICA (: trica.org: ): : purchased the historic Eastman Church with the goal of turning it into a permanent home for the arts center, but it has been anything but a smooth road.

Over the years, the church had been structurally compromised in earlier renovation attempts and even housed a meth lab. The vast majority of the $2.7 million needed for the first two phases of the project was spent making sure the building was going to stay up, installing new windows and properly cleaning up the residue left by the meth lab.

TRICA passed the $2.5 million mark earlier this year and was quickly closing in on the final push for the funds needed to get the doors open. In an ideal world, Swarthout said he would like to open the center by fall 2013, but added that he realistically thinks the grand opening will be within one year.

"The ultimate reward is seeing those children inspired," he said.

It will be the culmination of a longtime dream for Swarthout, a fourth-generation Treasure Valley resident who always wanted to bring his love for the arts back to Boise while working as a professional ballet dancer in New York and Houston.

"I left, but I realized what a cool place Boise and the Treasure Valley is," he said. "It's a great place to live and raise children."

"I love the Treasure Valley and the receptiveness of the people here," Swarthout added. "You can do things and see it make an impact."

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