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The Boise Art Museum


The central hub for art in Boise for 80 years

This is an exclusive interview with Melanie Fales, the Executive Director/CEO of the Boise Art Museum

Hi, Melanie! Thank you so much for talking with us about the Boise Art Museum! Would you mind introducing yourself to Totally Boise’s readers?

My name is Melanie Fales. I am the Executive Director/CEO of the Boise Art Museum. I have had the privilege of serving this non-profit organization for the past decade as the director. Prior to that I was a volunteer, art educator/instructor, Associate Curator of Education, Curator of Education, and Interim Executive Director.

I hold a bachelor’s degree in art with emphases in art history and painting and a master’s degree in art education with an emphasis in art museum education. My past experiences include teaching art to pre-K through 9th grade students at a private school of arts and sciences and teaching drawing and arts methods at the college level.

I had the good fortune of attending the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, thanks to a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship, and studying in the preeminent art museum studies school in the world inside the Louvre as part of my graduate work.

Last year was BAM’s 80th anniversary. That’s definitely an impressive milestone, especially considering that’s almost as old as the state of Idaho itself. Are there some interesting facts or stories, from BAM’s long history that most people probably don’t know?

The Museum was built during the Great Depression and was a grassroots effort of the community, illustrating its commitment to the visual arts and art’s importance to human existence. Since then, the Museum has developed into a professionally run and nationally accredited organization that reaches a local, regional, national and international audience.

For eight decades, BAM has been the center of creativity and innovation in Boise. From its humble beginnings and throughout its institutional advancements, the Museum has established a reputation as an educational leader in the visual arts. Boise Art Museum has been a dynamic cultural anchor, presenting thousands of exhibitions and educational experiences that illuminate passions and transform lives.

The Museum makes it possible for tens of thousands of people of all ages to intensely explore and respond to visual art each year. BAM is the heart of the visual arts community as the only nationally accredited collecting art museum in Idaho and within a 300-mile radius. The Museum is committed to being a vital partner in the educational and cultural life of the community and a preeminent institution locally, regionally and nationally in leading innovation and excellence in the visual arts.

Since 1937, the Boise Art Museum has been a venue for cultural and civic dialogue, community building, volunteerism, and the exploration of diverse ideas. Throughout the past 80 years, during economic ups and downs, times when public support for the arts has waxed and waned, and eras when art education in schools was a priority and when it was not, the Museum has held steadfast to our mission and continuously strived to connect our local community to the greater world of art.

By educating people about themselves and others through works of art, BAM’s exhibitions and educational programs have been instrumental in enhancing the quality of life and establishing a sense of community through the gathering of people around shared values.

For 80 years, the Boise Art Museum has fulfilled an essential need for our community by nurturing forms of visual arts and creativity that exist nowhere else in Idaho. BAM is a place where community members can exercise their imaginations, express their thoughts, and explore what it means to be human.

The heart and soul of the Museum are the individuals who are transformed by the exhibitions and educational programs BAM offers at every stage of life.

What about something current about BAM today that people in the community might not know but you think they should?

Boise Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) non–profit, educational and charitable organization. The mission of the Museum is to create visual arts experiences, engage people, and inspire learning through exceptional exhibitions, collections, and educational opportunities. BAM is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), certifying that the Museum meets or exceeds national standards in all areas of its operations.

BAM is the only collecting art museum in Idaho to hold AAM accreditation and is among 4% of museums nationwide that have earned this distinction. National accreditation makes it possible for BAM to showcase extraordinary exhibitions of artwork from throughout the world for people to experience.

How do you personally see BAM’s role as a staple of the Boise community?

As the premiere visual arts organization in the community, BAM has a responsibility to foster an appreciation of fine art, educate the community and challenge audiences to examine ideas through art.

A primary goal of the Museum is to provide visual arts programs for the community, state and region to promote the understanding of and personal connections with artworks in BAM’s Permanent Collection as well as those displayed in temporary exhibitions.

Audiences for educational programs range from toddlers and children starting at just 1-2 years old, to teen programs, to programs for adults and seniors ages 62 and older, and programs for families.

There are programs as well for teachers, artists, collectors, and special-needs populations, including rural and English- as-a-Second-Language populations, low-income families and developmentally challenged students.

The Museum strives to make art accessible to the public through direct interaction with people of all ages both in and out of the Museum, through teacher training, tours, classes, camps, demonstrations, workshops, lectures, online programs and publications. BAM’s diverse educational programs provide avenues for in-depth explorations of the artworks displayed in the galleries.

Visitors learn about artists’ techniques through in-gallery and studio programs such as Art Answers, Studio Art Exploration, Toddler Wednesday, Family Art Saturday and Teen Art Night.

Additional public programs, including Especially for Seniors, First Sunday Art Tour, and Art Break feature docent-guided tours of the exhibitions. All of these programs are provided free of charge or free with the price of admission, encouraging people of all social and economic backgrounds can participate.

There are also a wide variety of school programs. Through the Free School Tour Program, more than 10,000 Idaho pre-K through 12th grade students visit the Museum each year for free to participate in tours of exhibitions and hands-on art projects. Transportation reimbursement covers the costs of travel to BAM so all schools can participate. Each year, BAM’s free ArtReach outreach program enables more than 6,000 children, who cannot visit the Museum in person, to experience and learn about visual art in the comfort of their rural classrooms.

Approximately 90% of students participating in ArtReach attend Title One schools in high-poverty districts serving disadvantaged youth. The families of students in the Free School Tour Program and ArtReach program are indirect beneficiaries of the program, as participants receive free admission tickets, giving them the opportunity to visit the Museum with family.

How do you think BAM’s role in the Boise community has changed over the years? Can you think of any specific or tangible examples of this change?

On December 3, 1932, The Boise Art Association, Inc. (now Boise Art Museum, Inc.) became a non-profit corporation in the state of Idaho to be in perpetual existence for the purposes of creating in the minds of residents, an increased appreciation for the Fine and Applied Arts, to receive gifts and bequests for the use and benefit of this corporation, and to acquire and maintain a suitable gallery in which works of art could be displayed.

The Boise Art Association, Inc. was given space in the Carnegie Public Library in which to display its art exhibitions. The aims of the association were educational and cultural in character, and its exhibitions of paintings and other works of art were generally available to the public for a small admission charge, meant to defray expenses.

The Boise Art Association, Inc. operated in the Carnegie Public Library until it raised the funds to build the Boise Gallery of Art, which opened in 1937 in Julia Davis Park on Boise Parks and Recreation land with labor provided by the Works Progress Administration. Through this partnership with the city of Boise and the Works Progress Administration, The Boise Art Association, Inc. moved the Boise Gallery of Art program and operation to the new building in 1937, at which time it used the building exclusively as a museum for the display of art objects and for incidental art purposes.

In 1961, The Boise Art Association, Inc. expanded its stated mission through amended Articles of Incorporation to include but not be limited to the receiving and expenditure of principal and interest to promote the well-being of mankind by charitable, educational, literary endeavors and publications to the end of encouraging the development of artists and interest in art by establishing leadership efforts in art and art education through the Boise Gallery of Art.

In the mid-sixties, as exhibition programming became more ambitious, the need for additional space quickly became a priority, and The Boise Art Association, Inc. raised the funds to begin a year-long expansion program in 1972. The building reopened to the public in 1973, and The Boise Art Association, Inc. changed its name to The Boise Gallery of Art Association, Inc.

In 1986, the institution successfully completed another fundraising campaign to support a second renovation for expansion of its galleries. In 1987, The Boise Gallery of Art Association, Inc. changed its name to the Boise Art Museum, Inc. and the organization became known as the Boise Art Museum. This name change corresponded with the award of initial national accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). National accreditation certifies that the Boise Art Museum meets or exceeds national standards in all areas of operation including the Permanent Collection, education programs and exhibitions. BAM continues to be accredited by AAM, is the only collecting art museum in Idaho, and within a 300-mile radius, to hold AAM accreditation and is among 4% of museums nationwide that have earned this distinction.

In 1997, the Boise Art Museum, Inc. embarked upon a multi-million dollar campaign, supported by the city of Boise and the community, to increase its facilities to a total of 34,800 square feet. Since that time, BAM has served the community with high-caliber exhibitions from its Permanent Collection as well as with borrowed works of art along with a full accompaniment of related educational programs.

How do you see this role evolving in the years to come? Are there ways you would like to see engagement, interaction, etc. between BAM and the Boise community grow?

I see BAM continuing to carry the torch for the visual arts in our community. We want to enhance and ensure a rewarding experience for all visitors through exhibitions, collections, interpretive strategies, educational programming, a welcoming environment, and a commitment to being a vital part of the educational, economic and cultural life of the community.

I see our engagement and interaction growing through additional partnerships that extend our reach and invite new audiences to join in the experiences that connect us as human beings through the essential artistic and cultural endeavors that make us who we are and encourage understanding, tolerance and well-being in our community and beyond.

What are some of your favorite exhibitions displayed at BAM in the past?

We share an average of 16 exhibitions each year at BAM. There have been so many great exhibitions, and it always feels like the current one is my favorite in the moment! I would hate for anyone to feel that I have left them out by not including them on the list of locally, regionally, nationally and internationally renowned artists featured at BAM. With so many exhibitions each year, they are all wonderful learning opportunities for the staff, trustees, volunteers, artists, and visitors.

  • Andrea Merrell: Measure of Man
  • Gerri Sayler: Ad Infinitum
  • Susan Valiquette: Let Me Be Brave, Portraits of Courage
  • Garth Claassen: Bloated Floaters, Snouted Sappers, and the Defense of an Empire
  • Troy Passey: Left Unsaid
  • Karen Woods: The Way to Wilder
  • Cheryl K. Shurtleff: The Road is Wider than Long
  • Charles Gill: Observatory
  • BAM’s Idaho Triennials
  • Jun Kaneko
  • Devorah Sperber: Threads of Perception
  • Comics at the Crossroads
  • A Survey of Gee’s Bend Quilts
  • Wanxin Zhang: A Ten Year Survey
  • Ansel Adams: Early Works
  • John James Audubon: American Artist and Naturalist
  • Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth
  • Billie Grace Lynn: White Elephants
  • Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Israel
  • Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power
  • Gail Grinnell: Angle of Repose
  • Arp, Mirò, Calder
  • Liu Bolin: Hiding in the City
  • Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami
  • Adonna Khare: The Kingdom
  • Minidoka: Artist as Witness
  • When Modern Was Contemporary: Selections from the Roy R. Neuberger Collection
  • Cercle et Carré and the International Spirit of Abstract Art
  • Matteo Pugliese: The Guardians
  • A New State of Matter: Contemporary Glass
  • Modern and Contemporary Ceramics: Anita Kay Hardy and Gregory Kaslo Collection
  • An Intentional Eye: Select Gifts from Wilfred Davis Fletcher
  • Mapping the Past: Selections from the Thomas J. Cooney Collection
  • Mapping the Present: Selections from the Driek and Michael Zirinsky Collection

Recently I had the good fortune of visiting the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery as well as the Renwick in Washington, D.C. SAAM’s folk art collection was so impressive, and the Renwick’s installation of the Burning Man exhibition was overwhelmingly stunning.

It was a special thrill to experience in person Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama, especially since we had hosted Kehinde in Boise in 2013 in conjunction with an exhibition at BAM entitled The World Stage: Israel.

What are some of your favorite pieces in BAM’s permanent collection?

We have more than 4,000 works of art in BAM’s Permanent Collection. Some of my favorites have been acquired by BAM thanks to our Collectors Forum membership group. They pool their funds for purchases of Northwest artworks and their care. So many of these works of art have been fabulous resources for engaging visitors as well as participants in our educational programs including school tours, classes, lectures and workshops.

There are too many to mention, but here are a few that I love:

  • Fay Jones, Self Portrait: Braque Boxing, 1992, acrylic on paper
  • Gregory Grenon, I Am Burning, 1994, reverse painting, oil on Plexiglas
  • Anne Siems, Nibunis, 1995, mixed media on beeswaxed paper
  • Deborah Butterfield, Democrat, 1995, found steel
  • Kumi Yamashita, Untitled (Walking Woman), 1997, wood, light, cast shadow
  • James Castle, Handmade book, Purity Saltine Wafers, late 20th century, paper, soot, saliva, color- printed found cardboard
  • Randy Hayes, Counter, China, 1999, oil on photolinen on canvas
  • Akio Takamori, Girl in Jumper, Small Boy, Boy with Hands in Pocket, 1999, stoneware, sumi ink
  • Morris Graves, Young Gander, 1955, oil on linen mounted on Masonite
  • Chuck Close, Lyle, 2003, 149-color screenprint
  • Wendy Muruyama, Minidoka, from Tag Project, 2011, paper, ink, string, thread

We were also the recipients of 50 amazing American artworks through a national project, 50 works for 50 states, from the collection of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, that I was proud to facilitate and receive on behalf of BAM.

BAM has the largest museum collection of artworks by Idaho artist James Castle, and they continue to delight every time we have the opportunity to share them with our visitors.

Are there any upcoming events, exhibitions, programs, or anything else at BAM that you are especially excited for?

I have recently begun work on a regional and national collaboration that will result in several amazing exhibitions during the next few years. I hope that by the time you are ready to go to print with an article about BAM that I will be able to share it with you for public release (I currently am not able to provide specifics, but I am very excited about what it will bring to BAM and our community!)

In January, we are showcasing 483 ceramic donuts on the 80-foot wall of BAM’s Sculpture Court! The donuts are being created for the installation by South Korean artist Jae Yong Kim.

I am also excited to welcome artist Wendy Red Start to Boise during our Crow Shadows Institute at 25 exhibition. We are partnering with Boise State University to host the artist for a lecture during the exhibition.

In BAM’s history, we have not shared an American Impressionism exhibition. I am thrilled that our curator, Nicole Herden, is curating an original exhibition for the Boise Art Museum that will focus on Impressionism in the Northwest.