Gem Center for the Arts eyes January opening

Gem Center for the Arts founder Jane Tharpe has paid out of her own pocket to renovate this building on Bank Drive near the corner of Vista Avenue and Overland Road. The center is seeking donations to cover its operations cost.
Gem Center for the Arts founder Jane Tharpe has paid out of her own pocket to renovate this building on Bank Drive near the corner of Vista Avenue and Overland Road. The center is seeking donations to cover its operations cost. Provided by city of Boise

A nonprofit center for artists should open early next year after a long, complicated rehabilitation of its future headquarters on the Boise Bench, leaders say.

Founder Jane Tharpe is paying out of her own pocket for some renovations to the Gem Center for the Arts headquarters, said Rachel Baxa, the center’s performing arts coordinator and director of communications. Local bankers want to see a few months of positive cash flow before they sign off on a loan to consolidate the building’s mortgage and renovation debt, Tharpe said.

Tharpe believes cash flow won’t be a problem. The local arts community’s response to the center’s development has been strong. Baxa said the center’s theater calendar for 2018 is almost full as groups line up to put on events there. Twenty-eight artists will rent its studios.

City Hall is impressed, too. Shortly before approving a rezone of the center’s headquarters Tuesday, City Council members and Mayor David Bieter congratulated the organization for putting together an ambitious project that energized city staffers as well as the arts community.

“This is an exceptional project,” Bieter said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen, with one other arts exception, somebody taken on as big a project as this with as much excitement as this. We wish you well.”

The exception Bieter referred to is the Treasure Valley Institute for Children’s Arts, which is renovating a former church in Boise’s North End neighborhood as an arts education center.

On Aug. 1, Tharpe bought a 24,000-square-foot building with three floors and a basement at 2417 W. Bank Dr., just northeast of the corner of Overland Road and Vista Avenue.

The building had been used as office space for decades and needed a lot of work. Tharpe hired a contractor whose crews have essentially gutted it, upgraded its electrical and lighting systems and built artists’ studios. Soon, the building will have a new fire suppression system and, by the end of 2018, it should have an upgraded ventilation system, Tharpe said.

Tharpe declined to say how much money she’s spent on the building. It will include space for all kinds of visual and performing arts; artists’ studios; a 3,000-square-foot gallery; a black-box theater, glass blowing studio and other facilities in the basement; and, possibly, a cafe and catering kitchen.

In October, Tharpe filed paperwork to establish Gem Center for the Arts as a nonprofit organization. The IRS approved the center’s nonprofit status Nov. 27, Baxa said.

A longtime art student and designer of home decor and children’s products, Tharpe wanted to provide what local artists identified as their most urgent need: space. Before buying the building, she and two local artists, Candy Canning and Jessica Tookey, formed Vivid Artist Spaces with the goal of building something like what the Gem Center has become.

Vivid Artist Spaces has since been folded into the Gem Center initiative. Canning is the center’s visual arts coordinator. Tharpe said the center hopes to add Tookey as a member of its board of directors.

The center employs two full-time employees: an executive director and Baxa. A part-time employee, volunteers and at least one Boise State University intern will pitch in, Baxa said.

Money for items like materials, equipment and salaries will come from paid memberships, donations, grants, classes and events, Tharpe said. The center won’t keep money from ticket sales for theater events, Baxa said. Most of the money from class fees will go to the artists who teach them, she said.

Tharpe expects artists to start moving their gear into studios in early January, with the center’s opening gala to take place soon afterwards, as long as all the relevant permits come through.

The gala will feature art displays from August’s eclipse, artists showing off their studio space, and a variety show put on by artists and students. Attendees will have a chance to make three-dimensional sculptures that will be assembled into a single large sculpture to hang in the center permanently.

Starting in mid-January, Baxa said, the Gem Center will offer regular classes on topics such as drawing, performing arts and entrepreneurship for artists, Baxa said.

How you can help Gem Center for the Arts

To donate money to Gem Center for the Arts or to sign up for classes and learn about the artists and their work, visit the center’s website: GemCenterForTheArts.com.