Boise is the most geographically isolated urban area in the lower 48. Despite this remote location, Boise residents have built a cultural infrastructure through forming community, regional, and national alliances. In turn, this infrastructure has helped shape Boise.
From Boise’s earliest days, the logistics of the city’s geographic isolation made it difficult to travel elsewhere for cultural amenities, which encouraged residents to develop local opera, ballet, orchestra, theater, and dance companies. By 1907, the city’s cultural life inspired attorney Clarence Darrow, here for a trial, to name Boise the “Athens of the Desert.”
In the past decade city leaders have encouraged Boise to “become the most livable city in the country” and in 2008 formed the Department of Arts & History from its predecessor the Boise City Arts Commission. This initiative illustrates that Boise’s leaders recognize the relationship between culture, economy, and livability.
Boise is fortunate that city leaders include arts and culture in discussion of the local economy, acknowledging that a robust creative economy is essential to the economic health of Boise. The city participated in Arts & Economic Prosperity II, III, and IV. The data from the earlier studies (II and III) provided the basis for the mayor and city council to award the Mayor’s Cultural Economic Development grants to several organizations in 2010 and 2011, a significant effort given the economic recession nationwide.
City leaders identified funding—generated by the rental of city rail property for two years—to cultural organizations that have an on-going positive impact on Boise’s economy. The funds made a big difference to these organizations, and helped at least two of them meet their budget for the year. In addition, one organization was designated the city’s first-ever Cultural Ambassador.
The results of Arts & Economic Prosperity IV announced earlier this summer identified that the nonprofit arts and culture industry in Boise generates $48,035,096 in annual economic activity, supports 1,602 full-time equivalent jobs, and generates $4,461,000 in local and state government revenues.
Arts and culture have been and continue to important to both the cultural and economic life of Boise residents, and have helped shaped the vision for the city to become one of the most livable in the country.