Join Ming Studios in celebrating three years of international and local art tonight

In 2015, international street artist Axel Void created a small-scale installation “Mediocre: Sofia & Rosario” at Ming Studios.
In 2015, international street artist Axel Void created a small-scale installation “Mediocre: Sofia & Rosario” at Ming Studios.

Celebrate three years of international art and local happenings at Ming Studios International Artist in Residency Program and Contemporary Art Center, 420 S. 6th St., Boise from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday, May 1.

See art from Ming alumni Dutch artist Wytske van Keulen, performances by Project Flux Dance, LED, Thomas Paul and others, and printmaking demonstrations by Boise’s Amy Nack of Wingtip Press.

Want to learn more about Ming and its founder Jason Morales? Below is my 2015 story from Treasure Magazine that looked at the development of this burgeoning arts organization that continues to flourish in Downtown Boise.

Ming Studios aims to ‘creates a dialogue between Boise and the greater world’

The Boise visual arts community has gone through dramatic changes in the past 10 years. Now, Ming Studios is one of several groups are finding new ways to help people experience art and build a deeper sense of community.

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Artists Kathrin Niemann (left) and Kristen Cooper (back, middle), taught a natural fabric dying class workshop as part of their artist residency at Boise’s Ming Studios in Boise. Kyle Green Idaho Statesman file

Subtly colored fabrics shifted in the breeze of an open door earlier this month at Ming Studios. The deep-hued blues, soft greens, a spectrum of orange, yellow and gold, and bursts of bright red of Kathrin Niemann and Kristen Cooper’s installation Color Story wafted in the flowing air. The two Berlin-based artists work in natural-dye processes and are the latest artists to create work in this contemporary art center and international residency in Downtown Boise.

In many ways, Color Story exemplifies Ming’s mission to bring in global artists who interpret their work within the local framework because Niemann and Cooper literally used Boise’s landscape as part of their medium.

The artists scoured backyards, Valley farmland and the Foothills for flowers and foliage that they transformed into patterns on scarves, dresses and shirts. The work is subtle and simple, and yes, it’s clothing, but the idea behind it addresses a larger question: What happens when you wear your environment?

“I think you get a deeper relationship to the landscape because you see the plants you’re around every day differently, “ Cooper says. Purple flowers can create a bluish green tint. Brown branches produce maroon. It’s never what you expect.

“We found dark sunflowers that I hadn’t seen before, and it turns out they make this beautiful dark blue-purple. That blew me away, “ she says.

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Entrepreneur Jason Morales opened Ming Studios in Boise in 2014. Kyle Green Idaho Statesman file

Founded in June 2014 by Jason Morales, Ming represents a shift in the Treasure Valley’s art scene. With traditional delivery systems for art, such as galleries, disappearing, more adaptive arts organizations such as Ming, Surel’s Place in Garden City and the Nampa Art Collective are on the rise.

They reflect an economic shift that dovetails with the growth of the Internet marketplace and a change in the way people are experiencing and consuming art. Multidimensional and nimble, these groups seek to connect to community through their efforts, in addition to selling work.

In Boise, Ming is fast becoming a creative hot spot. It received the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts and History for Emerging Arts Organization in September, after receiving 10 separate nominations during the public process. It’s more than a gallery. Its programming includes film, dance, classical music, readings and theater, in addition to exhibits by local artists, such as an upcoming photography and film installation by Boise’s John Shinn. It will be his first gallery-type show.

Morales is working with Duck Club, a Boise-based alternative music promotion company that also presents the Treefort Music Fest, to present intimate performances by contemporary musicians, and with Boise State University to offer an outlet for university-based artists.

This diversity creates a cultural cross-pollination with visual artists interacting with filmmakers, dancers getting to know artists and so on. It also brings a diverse selection of people through its doors.

Space — the creative frontier

The building at 6th and Myrtle streets is like a blank canvas - an empty space just waiting to be filled with whatever the artists can imagine. That’s the greatest gift an artist can receive, Cooper says.

“It’s space and time, and there are no rules, “ she says. “You’re welcome to make any type of work, and whatever direction you want to go, you can go there. No expectations, except my own.”

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Basque artist Judas Arrieta created his installation “Boiseland” installation at Ming Studios in Downtown Boise. Katherine Jones Idaho Statesman file

Ming has filled the space with work by artists from Germany, Holland, the Basque Country and Spain so far. Each brought a different world - and artistic — view, and ... “each of our artists have reflected back something about our community to us, “ Morales says. “This creates a dialogue between Boise and the greater world, and that connection is going to be of increasing importance.”

Basque artist Judas Arrieta’s “Boiseland” incorporated Boise Basque icons, such as Pete Cenarrusa, into his installation during Jaialdi this past summer. Spanish street artist Axel Void brought his international project “Mediocre” to Boise to explore the everyday lives of two teenage girls who live here with his “Rocio & Sofia.” Dutch artist Marijn van Kreij created mixed-media paintings inspired by Boise band Built to Spill’s song “Traces.” He also worked with Boise musicians to create an accompanying performance piece.

Uli Westphal’s “Cornucopia” highlighted the need for more biodiversity in our food culture through digital art and installation. Provided by Ming Studios

German artist Uli Westphal connected with local growers through his installation “Cornucopia, “ which dealt with the politics of biodiversity in the food chain.

The artists all developed relationships with Boise that may bring them back in the future.

Usually, when artists of this caliber get an opportunity to work in the U.S., it’s in New York or San Francisco. Coming to Boise — a place they might not even know of — is a different kind of eye-opening experience.

“Boise is this really interesting microcosm, of not only the region but of the country, “ Morales says. “It’s an opportunity for international artists to experience the U.S. in a slower, more accessible way. You get a chance to see the same culture you’d see anywhere, but a pace that allows you to absorb and understand.”

They live in the community, hike in the Foothills and explore the region. This chance to experience open land is “gourmet,” Westphal says.

“In Europe, everything is fixed already, “ he says. “It’s populated and dense. Here, there is wilderness, and for me that is a really good feeling to have that close by. You see the mountains over there, and you don’t know what that is. There’s mystery. In Europe, you don’t get that open perspective.”

And the artists carry the word about Boise’s growing arts scene out into the world. After his Boise gig, Void was invited to bring his “Mediocre” project to legendary British street artist Banksy’s “Dismaland Bemusement Park,” a major temporary art project that happened in England in September. Void worked alongside 58 international artists, including Banksy and Damien Hirst. Morales is working to bring him back to Boise.

Artists also connect with other Boise arts communities. Boise-based filmmaker Sterling Hoch was one of the musicians who played at Van Kreij’s opening. The two hit it off and wrote and received a grant from a Swedish arts organization to make a music video for Naive Set, a band from the Netherlands. They shot it entirely on iPhones in Boise.

“I did not expect to move to Boise and find this kind of opportunity, “ Hoch says. “I think what Ming is doing is pretty cool. It surprised me because I’m used to art galleries in L.A. or New York, and other galleries here where they’re more geared toward selling rather than curating. I think Ming is more focused on building relationships and creating a space where the artists can curate their exhibit. I think it’s a great asset.”

Why Idaho?

“I strongly believe in Idaho - as a concept, not just as a state, “ Morales says. “It’s not in the mind-share of the majority of people outside of the United States. It’s kind of like a creative frontier in the American West, which has a lot of appeal to people outside this country.”

Morales grew up in Southern California. He moved here with his family in 2000 and stayed to go through the Executive MBA at Boise State, while keeping his idea of an international art residency brewing on the back burner. It popped to the forefront when Morales attended the 2013 Mayor’s Awards.

“It was an inspiration to have the artists there and to see what is possible, “ Morales says. “That’s what got me moving.”

At the time, he had grand ambitions of building an art center Downtown and connecting with major international art curators to identify artists to invite. Then Classic Design Studio co-owner Noel Weber Jr. called with the idea of using the space in his building that was left vacant when Boise Art Glass moved into the Bogie’s Building on Front Street.

“I was focused on the other vision, so it took me awhile to realize this was the opportunity I was waiting for, “ Morales says. “I couldn’t have found a better space.”

He originally planned to call the project Momenta, but Ming Studios was already on the front of the building, named for the building’s original business, Ming Auto Detail. It has become a good fit.

This more simple and local approach turned out to be a smart move. It landed him in an existing creative and welcoming community nestled among the Webers’ Classic Design Studio, Wil Kirkman’s Rocket Neon, and the hip men’s barbershop and clothing store Peace Valley Dry Goods next door.

Morales also turned to family to jump-start the center. Cooper is his half-sister and now runs the residency program. Her husband, Westphal, an artist who has shown in Tokyo, Russia, Germany and Holland, helped build out the space and became Ming’s first artist-in-residence.

Morales does have a day job. He works for Microsoft as a solution specialist on its U.S. education team and travels from Boise to universities in the central United States.

Morales’ Ming project has received a few grants, but Morales is still its largest donor. Now he’s ready for it to move to the next level. He’s in the process of getting nonprofit status, expanding its board and looking to a time when he will hand Ming over to a full-time executive director and transition to becoming just a board member. He hopes his efforts will continue to benefit Boise’s artists and its economy.

“The best thing for our business, our city, our state will be to develop our culture, our art, “ Morales says. “If we were to differentiate Boise in terms of having high-quality production of art and also have a community that uses its idle time to support, create, observe and learn about what’s happening in the world — that will transform Boise.”