Green Chutes: 'Not a stuffy museum'

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Walk into the Green Chutes Artist Co-op on State Street and you're immediately struck by the vast exhibit space--the cathedral-high ceilings and, oh yeah, the carved wooden giraffes with necks so tall, they peer above everything like savannah sentinels.

The other striking thing about Green Chutes is the radiant smile of operations manager Joneen Chapman, who has been shepherding the co-op since it opened about three years ago.

"I see it as an avenue for many local artists to find a place where they can show," she says.

One of those artists, Polly Barrett, is grateful for the opportunity and impressed by the variety of work that greets visitors.

"You've got jewelry, you've got pottery," she says, perched on an antique fainting couch.

"You've got paintings, you've got photography, fabric jewelry, clothing, designers, everything."

Architect Gerald Exline is another of the co-op's converts.

At the office, he deals with the quixotic nature of pleasing clients, so he's happy to be able to step away from the pressures of his profession in service of his passion.

His canvases in mostly grays and browns have a dreamlike quality, a geometry of other-worldliness.

"There are always limitations when you do work as an architect," he explains. "That functional thing. When I put something on canvas, I can make it up."

And, after all, isn't that what art is? A chance to color outside the lines of convention?

One who does is Chieshenam Westin.

"I get inspired," he says of his co-op experience. "Every time I'm working here, I find something I hadn't seen before that speaks to me of ideas, movement and form."

Westin's work is a dipped-in-amber celebration of Idaho's desert vistas.

Pointing to a landscape bathed in the bright orange glow of a setting sun, Westin tells me, "I'm really trying to show the vastness and emptiness of our land and how special it is."

And while Westin's traditional work is impressive, he also has broken ground as a painter of miniatures.

For the dollhouse set.

"Dollhouse people are nuts," he laughs. "They're just flat out nuts. They'll spend more for the couch in their dollhouse than I'll spend for the couch in my house."

Westin guides me to a pillar on which are perched several tiny oils. They measure 2-and-a-half-by-3 inches.

They are not mini-priced however.

"A miniature takes me 4-6 hours and I'm selling them unframed for ninety dollars."

That seems fair and in keeping with the sensibility at Green Chutes. The goal isn't to fleece the art lover.

Prices are reasonable by design.

Polly Barrett sets me straight.

"Everything here is affordable," she says proudly. "And you've got original artwork and you're supporting people who live around here."

Still, not just anyone can exhibit here. Joneen Chapman is the final judge and jury. Her expert eye elevates the space to that sweet spot just below stuffy museum gallery.

"We want every individual to be able to come in here and say, 'I'm welcome here and I'm going to enjoy looking at what I'm looking at.'"

It might be a variation of a Jackson Pollock splatter painting, or a wall clock made from Harley-Davidson parts.

Or a scarf, hand-knitted from alpaca wool.

Chapman curates the space for optimum effect, and yet she's careful to select only those artists she feels are ready for the Green Chutes experience.

"If they have never shown someplace before, you want to make sure they're ready for feedback," she says diplomatically. "Once they they put it out there, they're going to get feedback."

In the middle of the grand space is a sprawling sectional sofa and it hints at another aspect of Green Chutes.

Polly Barrett says the vibe is uber-relaxed and that seems to appeal to a broader segment of Boise's arts community.

"You can walk around with a cup of coffee. People do that."

If the word "co-op" suggests things that are good for you and locally-grown, you wouldn't be far off the mark here.

Everywhere you look, you find art to feed the soul.

And no artificial ingredients.

That's the Green Chutes guarantee.