Local Heroes 

Melanie Fales

Every once in a while you meet someone who has seemingly been kissed by Buddha, a person you can instantly tell is grounded, humble, warm and wonderful. Melanie Fales is one of those types. Curator of Education at Boise Art Museum (BAM), Fales is a quiet hero--happy to lend credit to others, content to work tirelessly behind-the-scenes, and always able to keep her eye on her highest goal--helping people of all ages understand art.

This she does by managing myriad programs with a teeny-weeny staff of two. Hearing Fales list all the programs she initiated and all the classes, lectures, brochures, exhibits, grants, partnerships, teachers, students and docents she is ultimately responsible for, it's a marvel she does it all in a 50-60 hour work week. Fales is not an employee you'll catch checking her hotmail account.

Fales first became involved at BAM in the '80s as a volunteer ambassador and docent. She had an undergraduate degree in art history and painting and wanted to get her foot in the door. Over the next decade, both feet kept walking through BAM's doors, as she began to teach summer classes while maintaining an administrative job with the state to pay the bills. Graduate school was the next step, and Fales pursued a Masters in Education with an emphasis on art. She wrote her own degree program at Boise State, which included a very formative year at the Ecole de Louvre in Paris and an internship at Musee D'Art Americain in Giverny. After her stint in France, Fales felt museum work was the best way to blend her passion for art with her sharp administrative skills.

Fales' firsthand experience wearing the hats of those she now manages plus her Idaho roots give her an invaluable perspective for the museum. Much of her work involves knowing what the community wants and needs--Fales has proven again and again that she can deliver. Since coming on board full time at BAM in 2000 (first as Associate Curator of Education), Fales has implemented Toddler Wednesdays (hands-on drop-in for toddlers) and ArtReach (art educators visit schools unable to come to BAM); developed Art Discovery Packs for BAM family visitors; added a hands-on component to Especially for Seniors (BAM's monthly senior program); launched Higher Ground (a biennial, professional-quality local high school exhibit); initiated Teen Art Lab (a program for at-risk middle school students) and a program at Marian Pritchett School for pregnant teens and teen parents; and greatly expanded programs for teachers to integrate art into their curricula.

For her extensive work with teachers, Fales received the 2003-2004 Educator of the Year Award from the Idaho Art Education Association. The award yielded her a congratulatory letter from Mike Crapo, which Fales keeps in a "feel-good" drawer amidst an impressive stack of awards, certificates, notes, letters and evaluations.

Fales says the positive comments she receives ("The program could not be more perfect" or "I would like to have called everyone I know to come and join the class") are what make her most proud. In a world that doesn't value art enough, where bureaucracy can easily disrupt dreams, feedback like this keeps everything in perspective.

--Colleen Cronin

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