Arts & Culture

Artists of various backgrounds, skills to paint over murals in Downtown Boise’s Freak Alley

Boise artist Colby Akers avoids the word “no” when it comes to exhibits in his outdoor alley exhibit and indoor gallery.

It was the constant sting of the word that led Akers to draw on the back door of Moon’s Kitchen Cafe in Downtown Boise in 2002. Eventually, “yes” struck him, literally, when the door suddenly opened.

“Mark and Kali, the owners of Moon’s at that time, hit me in the head with the back door and they were like, ‘Oh, we noticed you’ve been doing some drawing,’ ” Akers said.

He offered to paint over his creation. Instead, he received a green light from the owners to continue until the door was covered.

As he got permission to paint on walls and other spaces in the alleyway, Akers reached out to friends.

“We just started growing from there, just started bringing in other street kids that I knew, saying ‘Hey, come draw with me,’ ” Akers said.

It grew into the outdoor Freak Alley Gallery, which was launched in 2011 in the empty parking lot on Bannock Street between 8th and 9th streets. The project has brought together artists every year from the Northwest and states as distant as Wisconsin.

Akers estimates more than 300 artists have worked in Freak Alley. An outdoor gallery event Aug. 1-8 is expected to showcase works from more than 40 artists who will meet in the evenings, and many times will continue working until early in the morning painting on the alley's walls.

“We get the artist set up, they start working, and then we just kind of roam around and just monitor, see if people need anything — get them water, help them out,” Akers said.

These annual repaintings of the alley are geared to encourage people to revisit the alleyways’ nooks and crannies.

An indoor Freak Alley gallery opened at 210 N. 9th St. last December, next to the alleyway. It features three to five different artists each month. Akers said the gallery will cut back the number of artists to two starting in September in order to give more attention to each artist’s work.

Numerous local businesses have supported the gallery since it kickstarted its first outdoor mural event in 2011, including Brown Rental, Pie Hole, Fireside Inn, The Roosevelt Market, ABC Taxi, the now-closed Red Room and others.

The outdoor mural event in August is not the only time that the gallery is given a makeover. If space in the alleyway is unused or a painting has lingered for several years, a different artist may step in and repaint the area.

Illustrator Jeff Ockerse will participate in the outdoor mural event for the first time this year.

“I’m looking forward to making something large-scale that everybody can see,” Ockerse, 23, said. “I’ve done large-scale illustrations before but never outside and never 20 by 30 feet. It should be a challenge, but I’m excited for the challenge.”

Akers, 40, relates to the young artists who contact him for exhibition opportunities. He experienced local galleries declining his pieces as a young artist because they did not fit into the style of the gallery.

“I’m glad I can provide a space for people who might not be able to get shows in places, much like myself. That’s why I don’t really tell too many people ‘no.’ I’m tired of hearing it, and you never know which one of them might be tired of hearing it too,” Akers said.