Idaho Gives: Arts & Culture 

Fresh funds could help nonprofits finish existing projects, start new ones

On the Idaho Gives Day of Giving, scores of arts nonprofits will get a boost. Some will use the platform to increase their visibility in the communities they serve. Others will jockey for money that could make big differences for the furtherance of their missions. All of them will take the opportunity to tell their stories.

Few tell better stories than people in the theater. For its 2019-20 season, HomeGrown Theatre will continue staging what Managing Director Jamie Nebeker called the "theatrically impossible," opening with Qui Nguyen's She Kills Monsters, a production about a woman who plays her deceased sister's Dungeons & Dragons dungeon master scenario; followed by Jaclyn Backhaus' Men on Boats, about men who explore the Colorado River—and are all played by women and non-binary people. Then, it will stage the eighth-annual Horrific Puppet Affair, and end the season with Duncan Macmillan's Lungs, about two people living in the near-future deciding whether they want to have children.

"If you're reading a play and it doesn't feel like it would be an experiment...I don't think HomeGrown Theatre would be interested in producing that play," Nebeker said.

HomeGrown can produce a play on a shoestring budget, but funds from Idaho Gives will help it foster a thriving theater scene by making sure its actors are paid enough to live and work in Boise.

"We've paid our artists every dime we possibly could, because if we don't keep local artists in town, if we don't give them a reason to stay, they won't," Nebeker said.

click to enlarge TRICA
  • TRICA

Keeping artists in Boise is a key part of HomeGrown's mission. At the Treasure Valley Institute for Children's Arts, it's to foster emerging artistry in kids. In 2017, "snowpocalypse" hit Boise, cleaving sandstone from the exterior of the iconic North End church being converted into TRICA's headquarters.

"The sandstone was unstable and started falling off the building. What we thought would be a $40,000 improvement became a complete overhaul," said Rebecca Weeks, TRICA's operations manager.

For 25 years, TRICA has taken the gospel of arts education—much of it dance education—to Treasure Valley children by providing all-day summer camps, joining school and after-school programs, and hosting classes with guest artists. According to Executive Director Jon Swarthout, reaching children with that message is socially critical.

"I think there's an inborn power in art," he said. "The belief is, it will pour over into [children's] regular lives in the decisions they make and their observations. The opposite of creation is destruction."

Damage to TRICA HQ didn't affect its programming, but funds raised through Idaho Gives will help further those programs and put the nonprofit back on track to finishing its conversion of the church.

"It's been this long-sustaining community fundraising campaign," said Weeks. "We've been hesitant about putting a date on [completion], but we're really hoping to be open next year."

click to enlarge TERRI GARABEDIAN
  • Terri Garabedian

A third arts nonprofit, Book It Forward!, has given away approximately 580,000 books to low-income children and families in Idaho since 2013. At a book drive in late April the all-volunteer nonprofit collected 109,000 new and gently used books.

"We were close to our half-million [collected books] mark, and we made that on day one," said Book It Forward! Coordinator Diane Schwarz. "There were 28,000 donated that first day."

According to one study, there are 13 books per child in middle-income households. For children in low-income families, that ratio drops to one book for every 300 children. Book It Forward! began when Schwarz and some friends collected 700 books and took them to the P16 Pre-K graduation in Caldwell. The next year, they collected 7,000 books, and 70,000 the year after that. Schwarz called it "kind of like a snowball," but said that may not be enough. With more money, Book It Forward! hopes to help establish similar groups across the state.

"When we first started, we thought, 'We're all volunteer, and we can really operate without money.' But we're never going to have the reach from Boise to get books up to Coeur d'Alene on a regular basis," she said. "We're looking for people like us to put the time in and do it in their communities."

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