Arts June 14, 2019

Surel’s Place

An artist's haven in the Work-Live-Create District

Artists need shelter. Artists
need space. Artists need time. Surel’s Place, a nonprofit
artist-in-residency program,
offers artists the gift of all three

—Surel’s Place website

Surel Mitchell was a self-taught visual artist whose legacy to Boise was an arts community that was richer for her efforts: she helped the Boise Gallery of Art mature into an art museum, she was a member of the Boise City and Garden City Arts Commissions, and she participated in numerous community art projects at a time when Boise was just beginning to emerge as a vibrant arts center in the Northwest.

But Mitchell’s most enduring contribution is Surel’s Place, a Garden City refuge for the artists-in-residence who spend 30 days in splendid solitude to pursue their art without interruption.

“The unfettered time you get there is really valuable,” said singer/songwriter Reeb Willms who was the Artist-in-Residence last February. “Your days are your own, and it’s up to you to create a structure to impose on yourself. My goal was to write songs. I was worn out from touring where it’s hard to find space for yourself and to be creative. I wrote 12 or 13 songs while I was there, and established a creative practice I didn’t have before. When I got home, I jumped back into touring but now I have a weekly writing date with a couple of girlfriends. It feels good to have a creative routine!”

Matthew Gray Palmer’s final exhibition. Photo: Courtesy Surel’s Place / Winston C. Mitchell

Surel’s Place is in what was once Mitchell’s home, a modern living and studio space she built in 1998 before Garden City became gentrified. After her death in 2011, Mitchell’s friend and artist Karen Bubb and her daughter Rebecca Mitchell Kelada established Surel’s Place in her honor. Kelada became the founding executive director. Their vision was to offer artists “the kind of support they deserve,” as well as interaction between the artists and the community.

The artists typically present a public workshop and then an exhibition or performance of their work at the end of their residency. Residencies are open to artists of all genres, from musicians to visual artists.

Matthew Gray Palmer is a visual artist who recently completed a commission of life-sized bronze hippos for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. While at Surel’s Place last spring, he tasked himself with creating 132 pieces in 20 days. The works comprised a mixture of charcoal drawings, acrylic paintings, and sculptures of sticks and twigs gathered during his walks along the banks of the Boise River.

“I set it up to put pressure and discipline on myself,” Palmer said. “None of my work was intended to be finished work. It was about process, getting out of the mind crunch. It gave me a concentrated and powerful sense of being alive!”

Palmer explained that he was able to actually have a relationship with his internal critic and collaborate with it, something every creative person can appreciate. “My only job was to show up and work—that’s all I had to do. It was like a living meditation. I had moments of fun and joy … without the pressure of being successful.”

Surel’s Place is closed to the public in order to “maintain the sanctity of the artist’s experience,” said executive director Jessi Boyer. However, since interaction between artists and the community is one of the core values of the organization, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse in creativity. “I think people will be surprised and pleased at the experiences we provide,” said Boyer. “We do pop-up shops, house concerts, art events from local artists and arts organizations, and more.”

During ArtBike tours, participants bike to visit local artists and makers—such as Susan Valliquette, Western Collective Beer, and Kay Seurat—in what Garden City has deemed its Live-Work-Create District. “First Fridays” occur every other month between April and December, and like “First Thursdays” in downtown Boise, are a bustling, lively mix of artists’ studios, artisans, restaurants and wineries open to the public.

“When I was there, I felt very welcomed by the community,” said Willms. “Wherever I went, people came up to me and expressed appreciation for me being there and for the community benefits this residency brings. That is so cool!” 

This article appears in the Summer 2019 Issue of Territory Magazine.