Chutes and Ladders

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Green Chutes offers Boise artists a cooperative catalyst for their creativity.

By Elisabeth McKetta
Photography by Copper Chadwick

Each time I look forward to the giraffes: full-sized baby giraffes, with their soft expressions and caramel-colored wooden bodies. I look forward to walking through the makeshift tunnels and looking at the photographs on the walls as well as the smaller prints in the bins below. And always I look forward to the food.

“It’s not a new idea, but it’s fresh to Boise,” says Joneen Chapman, the operations manager of Green Chutes. We are sipping tea at the high wooden table that is welded to the floor.

We are sitting in Salt Tears, the café component of this symbiotic Boise business. In the 24,000 square foot space, there is the café (taking up roughly a quarter of the floor plan) and the rest is art.

I toss analogies into the coffee-scented air. “Is this intended to feel like an art gallery – or a mixed-use space, or an art warehouse…?”

Joneen supplies a different noun. “It’s a catalyst,” she says simply. “We help artists discover their own voices and styles, and we give them a place to showcase and merchandise their work. It is a community for art – a cooperative and collaborative place.”

Both sides of the welder’s curtain involve the twin elements of creativity and choice: the kitchen, for example, has limits on what appliances are allowed in this mixed-use space. You will find croissants, sticky pastries, delicious pierogies, granola, yogurt, fresh juice, and a fragrant assortment of coffee and tea. The slenderness of menu feels elegant and fun.

Ditto the art. There are inexpensive gift items such as spices, clothes, and jewelry. There is also high-priced fine art that collectors come to peruse. The prices at Green Chutes run a significant range, from $15 to $6000. On the higher end, there is a Buddha made from a single stump of box elder wood (my daughter likes it the most: it bears the mark of being not easily breakable). And, of course, my favorite: the giraffes.

The space caters well to different demographics. There are people in professional clothing clustered in meetings or working on their laptops. And peppered among them are the college students, charting the same formations, only younger and more casually dressed. Green Chutes is situated at State and Collister, near several retirement homes, so there is a presence of older people too, rounding out the clientele’s diversity. A rhythm evolves between Salt Tears and Green Chutes: people get up, stretch, walk around and look at art, then return to what they were doing.

The name, Green Chutes, evokes something to me – rhizomes, a botany term for the continuous horizontal stem in grass that grows underground and, at intervals, puts out new roots and shoots. I tell this to Joneen.

“Yes!” she says. “It is all about healthy cross-pollinating, and about growing and nurturing new shoots.”

Joneen envisions Green Chutes as a prototype: “I look forward to the day when there are similar places all over the country. It is an experience to come in here. I would like to see this experience spread.”

Already Green Chutes has evolved and is garnering more attention and putting on more events. Joneen says: “I used to manage Green Chutes, but it’s grown so much – now, it manages me.”

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