Southwest Idaho cities out to create cultural identities

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When archaeologists and scholars look back at past civilizations, it is not politics or policies that capture their interest -- it is art.

Throughout history, people have been defining and refining their cultural identity through art and the cities of the Treasure Valley are no different.

One tool that Boise, Meridian, Eagle and Nampa are using to create their own cultural identities is their local arts commissions.

Idaho has seen a growth in the arts statewide since 1999. Six cities, including Boise, have adopted "percent for arts" initiatives that ensure public art will be part of any public construction. And since 2002, three new arts commissions have been formed in the Treasure Valley.

Eagle, Meridian and now Nampa all are seeking to develop their cultural identities -- separate from Boise.

Arts commissions are volunteer community organizations that advise city councils on arts issues, generate awareness for local programs, write grants to find events and projects, and lobby for city funding.

There are now 37 of them across the state. Creating a space for the arts in public life is a sign of growing civic maturity, said Karen Bubb, public art manager for Boise City Department of Art and History. "A city has to have a distinct cultural presence. The arts have a strong role in attracting people to live there and in driving economy," Bubb said.