5 Art-inspiring Cities in Idaho
Thriving Cultural Scenes
When it comes to artistic pursuits, the Gem State is no small potatoes.
As Idaho’s population grows — it’s the fastest growing state in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — so does its arts and culture.
“People in general are surprised with how much Idaho has to offer,” says Juta Geurtsen, community development director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts. “Until recently, Idaho was kind of this undiscovered gem.”
The state capital of Boise is generally known as a happening place. But Geurtsen says there are several other cities and even small communities with thriving cultural scenes.
“I think in Idaho there is a real resourcefulness in these rural communities,” she says.
From plays to poetry, chainsaw carvings to ceramics, folk dance to fiddling, the arts are thriving in Idaho cities of every size, including these five art-inspiring Idaho communities.
As the state capital and fastest-growing metropolitan city in the U.S., it’s no surprise that Boise is an artistic hub.
“With more people, you’re able to have more things happening,” Geurtsen says. “Boise is a great city with lots of art and history and lots of long-standing cultural institutions.”
Lauded as a place where you can catch a trout in the afternoon and attend a ballet at night, Boise’s thriving art scene includes citywide installations, murals and public art, such as the River Sculpture in front of The Grove Hotel. There’s also the Boise Art Museum, Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, Boise Contemporary Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Opera Idaho and the list goes on.
Named for famed explorers Lewis and Clark, the city of Lewiston has a rich cultural corridor, says Debi Fitzgerald, director for the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History. The downtown area houses the Center for Arts & History, city library, Nez Perce County Historical Society and Museum, plus private galleries, shops and restaurants.
The Center for Arts & History is the second largest exhibit space in Idaho. A centerpiece of the museum is a permanent historic Chinese Beuk Aie Temple exhibit. “Our galleries provide an opportunity to show a lot of diversity in the arts to the community,” Fitzgerald says.
A central event is the annual Art Walk held the first Friday in October. There’s also the three-day Art Under the Elms artisan festival that’s part of the city’s annual Dogwood Festival and draws up to 15,000 people.
The gentle rolling hills covered with wheat that surround Moscow make it obvious that agriculture is a big deal in the community and the Palouse region that encompasses it. But the city has a culture of the arts, too, making it a “Palouse paradise in the Northern Panhandle,” says Kathleen Burns, director of the Moscow Arts Department. The city of 25,000 is home to the University of Idaho, and Washington State University is just 6 miles away. “There are always arts and cultural activities going on, whether for the university or in the community, so it’s a pretty rich environment to live in.”
The Moscow Farmers Market is the oldest in the state and a huge draw, attracting 5,000 people every Saturday from May through October. Art and music feature prominently along with fresh produce. Another big event is the annual art walk in which 74 businesses and 125 artists participate. “It’s far from a boring place to live,” Burns says jovially. “There is always something to do.”
Twin Falls may be most recognized for its outdoor pursuits such as the Perrine Bridge, Snake River Canyon and Shoshone Falls, but the arts are also an integral part of this city of 44,000.
“The community is extremely engaged in a lot of different things,” says Carolyn White, director of the Magic Valley Arts Council. There’s the Magic Valley Symphony, Twin Falls Municipal Band, Jump Company, The Random Acts of Theatre Players and The Orpheum Theatre, to name a few.
One of the arts council’s most popular events is the Art & Soul of the Magic Valley, the largest cash prize art contest in the Northwest. For two weeks each April, hundreds of works of art are showcased at businesses, offices and public spaces throughout Twin Falls, and the public votes on their favorites.
The unassuming town of Weiser, population 5,500, is the longtime home of the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival. Since 1953, the rural southwest Idaho community has hosted the nationally recognized event that draws close to 30,000 attendees who come for intense competition and serious jamming, says Sandra Cooper, festival executive director.
Cooper is also involved with the Bee Tree Folk School, a community center where people share lost skills and new art forms through classes, workshops and get-togethers. Then there is the Weiser Little Theater, The Illustrious Onion Skin Players, a youth symphony and more.
“I think the general pace and quality of life here attracts people that appreciate a more creative lifestyle,” Cooper says.