Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Kristin Poole Rides BIG IDEA to Governor’s Award
Kristin Poole was inspired by the art being created at places like Creekside when she first came to Sun Valley in 1983. She left to get her Master’s degree, then returned.
Thursday, November 8, 2018


Kristin Poole became impassioned as she scrolled through slides depicting ways in which artists had exposed injustice and disrupted the status quo.

One picture zeroed in on a group of female artists who donned gorilla masks to march through the streets of New York as they observed that less than 5 percent of the artists in the modern art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art were women but that 85 percent of the nudes were female.

“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” they asked.

Kristin Poole was inspired by the art being created at places like Creekside when she first came to Sun Valley in 1983. She left to get her Master’s degree, then returned.

Another featured a historic landmark in Montreal that lit up with 100,000 watts of red lights every time a homeless person pressed a button, drawing attention to the homeless problem in the City of Lights.

And then there was Banksy’s “Flower Bomber” drawn on the streets of Jerusalem.

 “For me these symbolize so much of what art is and can be,” Poole told listeners gathered around her at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. “I believe that art can change the world, the way we think about our culture, our society. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I do and I wouldn’t have been doing it for the last 25 years.”

Poole’s passion for using various art mediums to provoke thought will be honored today as Gov. Butch and Lori Otter award her the Governor’s Award in the Arts in the category of Excellence in Arts Administration. She will be honored during a ceremony in the Idaho State Capitol Rotunda.

“The pollinator garden we created this summer was not the world’s most beautiful garden, but the end result was not so much about the garden but about imparting knowledge about bees and pollinators,” said Kristin Poole

Nominations for the awards are solicited from the public and reviewed by the Idaho Commission on the Arts commissioners.

Poole has been the artistic director of The Center, which explores contemporary issues through visual arts, humanities lectures and theater performances, since 1997. She has served as its curator and art historian and recently helped lead a successful merger between The Center and Company of Fools.

She grew up in Detroit where her mother was a docent at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum for 50 years.

“I spent a lot of time at that museum and whenever we traveled we went to museums,” she recounted. “My parents were also members of the symphony and opera so I was exposed to a wide variety of arts.”

A couple hundred volunteers turned out to help create seed paper bees for The Center’s BIG IDEA project on pollinators.

Her interest in art only deepened as she attended the nearby Cranbrook Academy of Art, whose campus was a veritable piece of art from the architectural element to its sculptures and masterworks.

 “I was steeped in the physical beauty of what great architecture and craft could be. And we learned through multiple disciplines, which planted the seed for our BIG IDEA projects,” said Poole, who went on to earn a Master of Arts degree in modern art history from the University of Chicago. “It was when I saw the art of Diego Rivera, who had been commissioned by Henry Ford, that I began realizing how art  could tell the story of community and how it could be embedded with social and political  commentary.”

Poole was working in Chicago where she helped curate projects at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and direct the Chicago International New Art Forms Exposition when a friend who worked for the National Endowment for the Arts called her with the news of an opening at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts .

“I said, ‘I’m not moving to Iowa.’ Then, when she corrected me, I said, ‘Well, I don’t know where Idaho is, and I’m not moving there, either,’ ” Poole recounted.

But a phone interview intrigued her enough to look it over.

 “I got off the plane in Hailey not knowing where I was, but I knew it was special. And The Center was very ambitious about the kind of artists and art they wanted to showcase, as well as exploring  ideas through art,” she said.

Poole, who was a ceramicist at the time, immediately fell in love with the Trail Creek Campus where The Center offered photography, printmaking and ceramics classes.

The Institute of the American West was holding conversations dispelling the stereotype of the American cowboy. And Glenn Janss and Michael Engl were bringing the likes of Juan Cristobal to Sun Valley to  create a culture of art equivalent to the world-class recreation Sun Valley boasted.

“The level of arts in this town is extraordinary and to do it on the scale of intimacy that we do is unbelievable,” Poole said. “That we can see an author the caliber of Jon Mecham, as we did just recently, with 300 other people is so extraordinary. And we can do it because we have a population that is intellectually engaged and hungry for these kinds of things, along with a high level of professionals in organizations like the library that can deliver.”

Poole has been at the forefront of cultivating a robust visual, theatrical, literary and musical culture in the Wood River Valley.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. The American for the Arts ranks Sun Valley in the top 10 American communities when it comes to spending per capita on nonprofit arts and culture. And the arts are one of the most critical components of Sun valley’s tourism industry, according to Harry Griffith of Sun Valley Economic Development.

Poole came here intent on developing BIG IDEA projects looking at issues from a variety of lenses, including visual art, theater, music, film and lecture.

 “We can do it because we have a small community and we can have everyone touch an idea,” said Poole. “It might be harder to do in a big city, although big cities are asking us how to do it. We have a staff that’s ambitious and smart. And because we don’t have to store collections, we can be nimble. Our model allows us to take the temperature of what’s happening in the world and respond with projects like our recent bee project.”

Poole introduced the first BIG IDEA project in 2001 with a project titled “Mirroring History: The Gaze of Hate in the 20th Century.”

The project took its audience to the Japanese-American internment camp at Minidoka. It screened  several films, including Spike Lee’s “Four Little Girls” about the young black girls whose deaths in a Baptist church in Birmingham jump-started the Civil Rights Movement, and films featuring Elie Wiesel, Harvey Milk and the stories of the Kindertransport, which saved thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust.

It included lectures on Minidoka; lesbian, gay and transgender people, and a lecture by the late Edgar Bronfman on Holocaust Era Restitution.

It included a play reading about the internment experience as seen through the eyes of a young Japanese girl; a dance performance by Ailey II, which keyed off Alvin Ailey’s experience as a black and homosexual; and Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, which he is said to have composed in response to the Nazi death camps.

It also included Christian Boltanski’s memorial-like menorah made of 46 blue light bulbs affixed on the wall with a black and white photograph of a prewar Jewish child, which left viewers to wonder whether the child survived.

Every six weeks The Center staff shares a meal with community members to brainstorm BIG IDEA projects.

The ideas that engender the most energy and seem doable are taken before advisory committee and other groups.

“One time we were talking as a staff about doing something on hunting and it felt edgy because we wanted to talk about wolves,” Poole recalled. “We took our ideas to a program committee and had a robust debate as to why this we couldn’t take on issues around wolves and hunting.  I had not realized it would be such a can of worms.”

Conversely, Poole said, trying to do a project on China when you have 200 square feet and no Chinese art may not be realistic.

“What we’re going to do is vastly different than what the Museum of Natural History might do. And that’s the way it should be,” she said.

That said, it was the Sun Valley Center for the Arts that helped introduce Hung Liu,  now is represented by Gail Severn Gallery, when The Center did a project examining the Chinese experience in the Wood River Valley.

“Many times we’ve shown artists at the beginning of their career. And it’s thrilling to see them go off and do something else,” Poole said.

And The Center tapped into the Craters of the Moon National Monument when it commissioned two pieces of art to draw attention to the natural characteristics of the park. The Center would like to do something similar on the Camas Prairie, Poole said.

The Center has projects  planned through April 2021, including a project on mental health it hopes to introduce in the next 18 months.

That project started with a conversation with high school students talking about what they liked about the center’s lecture series. Each student said mental health—and corresponding topics of stress, anxiety and suicide—topped their list of things they’d like to see addressed

Another BIG IDEA project Poole wants to take a look at is colonialism as it pertains to the American West.

“We have a couple artists we’re interested in and they were interested in retelling history from the perspective of Native Americans,” she said. “It’s complicated bringing together so many disciplines. But offering a play reading, as Company of Fools did with “The Agitators” allows viewers to ponder the issue of protest and patriotism in a different way than they might listening to  Jon Mecham’s lecture. So, it’s worth it.”


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