Of Boise, For Boise, By Boise 

Art chosen for City Hall Plaza

At the end of November 2013, Boise Public Arts Manager Karen Bubb received 104 pages of public comments to sift through. The public was invited to pick from 27 proposals for a project to decorate City Hall Plaza. And pick, they did.

Citizens left more than 3,000 comments on the proposals--on display in the Sesqui Shop--all unsigned by artists in order to keep input focused on the work. Bubb said because the City Hall site is so high-profile, public input was really important for the $200,000 commission.

People left comments like, "The longer I looked at it, the more I enjoyed it. It kept surprising me," and, "One of my favorites. Says Boise, says trees," and "This is cool," as well as, "I'm worried it will look like a total mess except from one very specific perspective," "Seen it before" and "Eh."

The piece that will grace City Hall's concrete lawn--a sculpture titled "Terrain, Civics, Ecology" from local architecture firm CTY Studio and environmental planning and design company Ecosystem Sciences--received 117 positive comments, making it the second-most popular. A panel of five judges--Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan, Adam Park of the mayor's office, local artist Mark Baltes, Arts and History Commissioner Margaret Hepworth and Dana Zuckerman of Capital City Development Corporation--made the final call.

The sculpture features nine 20-foot-tall panels made of steel, with silhouettes of cottonwood trees cut into the slates, which fade from gold to red to green in a natural gradient. The panels will be staggered in a circle to create an enclosure passersby can walk through, and will replace the flagpoles currently arrayed in front of City Hall. "Terrain, Civics, Ecology" will capitalize on natural light shining through it, as well as integrated lighting making it glow at night.

The design team includes Dwaine Carver, Rob Thornton and Elizabeth Young of CTY Studio and Derek Risso, Tim Maguire and Zach Hill of Ecosystem Sciences. They sat down in October 2013 to start planning.

Two weeks ago, Hill got a call while picking up his son from Highlands Elementary, telling him their design won.

"My kids were more enthusiastic than anybody," Hill said. "After awhile, you get hardened because it's such a long, drawn-out process with lots of deliberation and changes. But [the design team] all got together as a group and celebrated at the CTY Studio downtown where we had pinned up all our ideas."

Hill and his partners grew up in Boise, graduated from Boise High School and are raising families here. They wanted to create a piece of artwork that would truly be emblematic of Boise--so they went back to Boise's beginnings.

"When we first started talking about this, we said, 'What is Boise? What is this place about?'" Hill said. "We went into geologic history and how it was formed. We looked at what gave us the landscape we have today, like the basalt formations and the mountains. Then we looked at what's layered on top: the ecology and the biology, the river and trees, and then the urban context--the city."

Hill said most of that research didn't make it into the final proposal.

"But if you saw the storyboard, it would show all those steps distilled down into something presentable. It wasn't just doodling," he said.

Their proposed sculpture is representative of CTY Studio and Ecosystem Sciences' working relationship. Hill said he's been collaborating with CTY for more than 10 years. When CTY needs a more environmental, ecological perspective, they call Ecosystem Sciences. When Hill needs a design viewpoint, he reaches out to CTY. He called the partnership "symbiotic" and said a large part of that relationship is working with Carver, who isn't new to public art: He collaborated with Trout Architects to create "Heliotrope" on the corner of Main and Eighth streets, near the U.S. Bank Building parking lot. The 16-foot-tall steel structure resembles the skeletal backbone of a plant and incorporates vines growing around and through it.

But Carver said this will be very different from "Heliotrope."

"Building ['Terrain, Civics, Ecology'] is going to be like installing 'Heliotrope' nine times," he said. "It's a really interesting sort of barn-raising."

Carver said the installation will be tied to the renovation of the City Hall Plaza. He expects shovels to hit the dirt a year from now, with the new plaza and the artwork completed by fall 2015.

Hill added that the work is now just starting. It's not a matter of handing off the design to some contractors--the artistic team will be on the project from start to finish. He said he wants this artwork to be a touchstone for Boise, but transitioning from concept to reality will be the real challenge.

"After we learned that we won, we were enthusiastic and excited. But now we need this to go beyond us," Hill said. "Boise needs to take ownership of it. How do we transcend this to the next level? How do we make this something that lasts and stands through time?"

Hill said when it's all done, he's excited to see the leaves and branches cut out of the panel interacting with the elements--in the sunshine, in the snow. First, though, the proposal still needs approval from the City Council and Capital City Development Corporation.

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