ArtCampus CultureCulture

Boise State’s collaborative art collection to inspire learning and innovation

Photo by Patrick R. Kauffman

Art lives everywhere. It’s in downtown Boise on the traffic boxes decorated with murals. It’s on Boise sidewalks, where chalk artists are free to express themselves. It’s on the walls and in the classrooms of Boise State.

Wherever students gather to learn — whether from instructors or from one another — art can be a catalyst for creativity. 

As part of its cultural mission, Boise State facilitates the public display of artwork for the “enjoyment and appreciation of students, faculty, and the general public.” 

Freshman graphic art major, Hope Kiefner, finds inspiration while crossing Boise State’s campus between classes.

“Visual art is important on a college campus because it brings a sense of the outer world into our local community,” Kiefner said. “Even the flowers that a gardener planted help make an environment that makes me want to feel creative and sit down and make something with my hands.”

Fonda Portales has served as the university art curator and collections manager since 2016. She directs all of the visual art programming on campus outside of the art department. Portales also curates campus art exhibitions and manages the university’s permanent visual art collection.

[Photo of first-year MFA student Hallie Maxwell with one of her pieces]
Photo by Patrick R. Kauffman | The Arbiter

Most of the university’s art collection has come from donors, Portales said.

Portales works with the university’s Art Advisory Committee to recommend art acquisitions, which President Dr. Marlene Tromp has the power to approve. Portales also collaborates with different university departments, including the College of Arts and Sciences, the Alumni and Friends Center and the Office of the Provost, to integrate art into departmental spaces. Some departments also invest into a budget for buying art, mostly from local artists.

Departments maintain exhibits that reflect their particular tenor of culture or the kind of research that they pursue. Boise State’s custodial staff plays a key role in helping to clean and maintain the university’s art collection.

The Blue Galleries in the Center for Visual Arts building is one place on campus where students can view art exhibits created by professional artists and other students. 

Kirsten Furlong is the gallery director for the Blue Galleries, which is part of the Department of Art, Design and Visual Studies.

Furlong emphasized the cultural importance of visual art displays as well as the need for students in the fine arts program to interact with professional artists.

“It’s one thing to make art in a studio, but it’s also important to learn how to present art,” Furlong said.

Hallie Maxwell, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student studying ceramics sculpting and wire weaving, is currently exhibiting her copper and steel wire work titled “Ode to Ruth no. 5” in the Blue Galleries.

“It’s important for students to see different perspectives that can only be told through art,” Maxwell said.

Student access factors into how art exhibits are planned. Campus art exhibits often include didactic material that can further a student’s knowledge about a particular work or artist.

“What we want is for the art collection to lead to moments of curiosity,” Portales said. “Learning happens in lots of different activities and spaces across campus. It happens when you’re hanging out with your friends in the student union or when you’re waiting for a coffee, dreaming of your next invention.”

Campus artworks are not available for purchase. However, Portales would like to develop a lending art program for students to request pieces of artwork to hang in their dorm rooms and residence halls.

One result of the COVID-19 pandemic is that some museums have digitized their art exhibits so that they can be viewed online. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has made much of its art collection available through it’s Rijks Studio website, and the Louvre Museum in Paris offers virtual tours through its exhibit halls.

Boise State will open the Keith and Catherine Stein Luminary inside the Center for Visual Arts in early 2022. The Stein Luminary will allow students to experience artwork from around the world through touch screens, surround sound and high resolutions.

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