ALEXA ROSE FELLOW
$25,000 ARTISTIC MERIT AWARD
ANNOUNCING THE 2024 FELLOW
A CREATIVE PRACTICE IN PURSUIT OF JOY
Grant Olsen’s creative practice is one in pursuit of joy: A joy that knows sorrow. Not baseless joy, joy that knows relief.
His work is not tied to a singular medium or material, but a thread that offers community, understanding, and the feeling of being seen. From airways to roadways, Olsen has shared his pursuit of joy in almost every corner of our community for decades. You may have seen his work as the Modern Hotel's Infinite Scroll, in private collections, and in group and solo shows at nearly every exhibition venue our area has to offer. His art has also appeared in many forms across the United States in New York City, Los Angeles, and Portland to name a few.
Grant Olsen describes his work as a lifeboat, an emergency evacuation hoping to redraft an understanding of our individual realities.“To make art is to make my community a better place. To make art is to build up the people around me. To make art is to make the world slightly more beautiful,” Olsen says.
Perhaps you’ve seen Olsen’s work outside City Hall as part of Boise’s Visual Chronicle, or in the city’s public art collection: his circus-themed traffic boxes at 14th and Main Streets or a large-scale constellation hand-sewn on fabric as a temporary installment on the Basque Block. Maybe you’ve caught a live performance of Phantahex, or his band Mr. Grant Olsen, which has recorded four albums with tracks available to stream or for free download.
Olsen is behind the iconic (and unsigned) I Love You strong man mural at the corner of 11th and Front Streets in Downtown Boise. “It’s a way to engage someone even for a brief moment and just let them know they’re okay,” he says. Olsen’s work has been included in the Idaho Triennial, the Boise Art Museum’s esteemed juried exhibition and he was previously awarded an Idaho Commission on the Arts Fellowship in Visual Arts. “I am relentlessly in love with the Boise community and curious about all the ways artmaking can bring relief (and joy) to an ailing spirit,” he says.
Generosity was a key theme in this year’s Alexa Rose Fellowship Award. Grant Olsen has donated hundreds of artworks for fundraisers, benefits, and auctions to support everything from environmental disasters to individuals’ medical emergencies.
He has rolled up his sleeves in support of local nonprofits such as Artisans For Hope, where he quietly invested a thousand volunteer hours in five years teaching sewing and English to refugees. He’s shared his talents with Boise Rock School, Idaho Humane Society, SNAP/Flying M’s Valentine For AIDS, and Treefort Music Fest, to name just a few. “The interactions I experience volunteering fuel my creative work,” he says.
Olsen has volunteered with the Pendleton Art Center Rock & Roll Camp for ten years. “It’s a special place, one I wish I’d had as a kid,” he says. The camp is free to attend, creating space for underserved children. Kids from all walks of life, such as group homes and reservations, come together in the summer months, allowing many diverse backgrounds to learn together. This summer camp is often the only safe space they experience in their day. Olsen recounts a story, “I met Kaydon, a kid from the Umatilla reservation, one summer. I watched him struggle to find friends and a meaningful connection to an instrument. He tried the guitar and saxophone, but nothing connected for him,” said Olsen.
“Meanwhile, Kaydon had a wooden flute that he always played during breaks between classes. I asked him about it, and he said his family had passed it down. I sat with him and asked him to show me how it worked. He explained that he saw visions, and the music he improvised translated those visions. I helped him understand that the flute was his superpower and encouraged him to take the stage solo. Kaydon and his flute blew everyone away, and the local newspaper and TV stations interviewed and celebrated Kaydon. This experience profoundly changed him, showing him that he had an essential place in the world that deserved to be valued and respected.”
“The tiny seed I planted with Kaydon is similar to other seeds I'm planting across the community. Some seeds grow into beautiful gardens, while other seeds feed the birds. Nonetheless, they are seeds for generative growth and change that I hope are lasting in this community.”
In 2023 Olsen celebrated ten years as the host of It's Now Right Now on KRBX Radio Boise, heard on 89.9 and 93.5 FM every Wednesday night from 7-10pm. With a signal covering the entire Treasure Valley and stretching to Baker City, Oregon, Radio Boise is the metro market’s only independent radio station and serves close to a million people.
“Grant really uses radio as an art form,” says a fellow KRBX programmer. “He brings so much passion and appreciation for the music. Why is it important, why is it good…Grant gets so many people donating during his program, it’s definitely one of our most sought-after shows.” He adds, “It’s Now Right Now is completely multi-genre with brilliant flow from one track to the next. It’s a very surprising show to listen to.”
When the venerable Doug Martsch (Built to Spill) gave up his on-air slot, the station needed a new show host with the musical depth and creative swagger to follow such a tough act. Olsen uniquely fit the bill and was persuaded by Alex Hecht and Wendy Fox. He has since contributed an estimated five thousand volunteer hours to Radio Boise. “Grant means a lot to us,” says the younger programmer. “He is someone we all look up to and admire. Not just how to build a great radio show—he embodies what we’re about: Being fiercely yourself.”
The 2024 Alexa Rose Fellowship sought to recognize an artist wielding creative mastery and significant community engagement with a tendency toward mentorship and giving back.
As this year’s Fellow, Olsen says he envisions unlocking new depths (and widths) of his creative practice, creating new bodies of work, and scattering hundreds of new seeds throughout this community. “I’d like to help other artists by illuminating what makes them special.”
Please join us in congratulating Grant Olsen!
To learn more about Grant Olsen, please visit him on LinkedIn
To see his art, please visit his Facebook page
To hear Mr. Grant Olsen's recorded music, visit Bandcamp