Newcomers are often surprised to find that the quality of Greater Idaho Falls’ arts scene equals the beauty of its natural surroundings.
The community is home to several arts establishments, including the popular Willard Arts Center and The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho, which packs a lot of visual art into its location on the Snake River.
“Eastern Idaho is a unique area in that we have all the benefits of rural living and we’re surrounded by natural beauty and wilderness, but we also have arts that look and feel more like what you would find in a much bigger city,” says Amy Carr, marketing manager for the Idaho Falls Arts Council. “We hear from a lot of people who are amazed at the amount and quality of the arts in Idaho Falls. We really have the best of all worlds here.”
So Much to See
At any given time, the Willard Arts Center is a flurry of activity with its two art galleries, artists’ studio spaces, the Colonial Theater, classrooms for adult and youth workshops and meeting spaces for events. The Colonial Theater opened in 1919 as a live entertainment venue, then operated as a movie house for many years before closing. In 1994, the historic building was donated to the nonprofit Idaho Falls Arts Council, which created what is now known as the region’s hub for the visual and performing arts.
Georgina Goodlander, visual arts director for the Idaho Falls Arts Council, says about 25,000 people each year visit the Colonial Theater, then discover the adjoining Hall and Carr galleries, which present eight to 10 exhibitions each year.
“What’s wonderful about our gallery spaces is that we’re free, we’re designed for everyone to enjoy and we’re open before shows at the Colonial Theater and during intermissions,” Goodlander says. “A lot of people spill out into our galleries while they’re here for a show, and find that they really enjoy the art.”
The Willard Arts Center, which is owned and operated by the Idaho Falls Arts Council, also offers unique spaces for some 200 events each year, such as weddings and meetings. The center’s biggest events are an annual, national juried exhibition that draws artists’ entries from throughout the country, and the Idaho Watercolor Exhibition.
“People here truly appreciate the amount and quality of art offered in Idaho Falls,” Goodlander says.
The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho, which opened in 2002, is one of only two art museums in the entire state, says Miyai Abe Griggs, the local art museum’s executive director.
“What’s cool about our little art museum is that it came about from the dreams of local artists who wanted to have a place where the community could experience art,” Griggs says. “We also get a lot of tourists from Yellowstone, and everyone is amazed that a town this size has an art museum like this.”
Griggs says the magic of the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho is that it constantly adapts to the needs of the community. Rather than housing artwork in a stuffy environment, the museum focuses on reaching a younger generation. In 2003, an outreach program was started to send art teachers and supplies into classrooms throughout Eastern Idaho. Today, that program reaches students in more than 200 classrooms every year.
“We really fill a need in bringing the arts to children,” Griggs says.
She adds that the museum itself is an accessible and friendly place for people of all ages. Schoolchildren come to the museum on field trips to learn and make their own masterpieces, and an annual youth exhibit features 500 pieces of art. There are after-school art classes and summer camps, as well as classes for adults from a wide variety of mediums and for all experience levels. The museum also hosts art history lectures and organizes occasional overseas field trips for art aficionados to experience art throughout Europe.
Griggs says the museum is anticipating building an education wing to better serve the community by offering more classes and to encourage more interest in the arts.
“The purpose of the museum," Griggs says, "is to educate and present exhibits that are comfortable and that also challenge us to get people talking about what art is.”