Coeur d’Alene’s newest arts hub is still rough around the edges, but it has come a long way in just the past month.

“It was very much like ode to the mid-’90s in here, sponge-painted baby blue everywhere,” Jeni Riplinger-Hegsted said.

She’s the executive director of Emerge, a nonprofit cooperative that aims to help artists create and show their work and provide a place where people can learn skills ranging from pottery to photography to music.

Volunteers are busily transforming a former downtown law office, on Fourth Street north of Lakeside Avenue, into a gallery on the main floor, classroom space in the basement, a textiles and fabric room, and studios in the back for musicians and visual artists. The leased space covers almost 4,000 square feet.

“We have so many talented artists that are not showing work anywhere, and there’s not really a bridge between showing your work in a coffee shop and showing in a professional gallery,” Riplinger-Hegsted said.

“And we wanted to find a way to give these artists the exposure that we felt they were due, because they’re making amazing work,” she continued, “but also to encourage artists to make more work, continue their education.”

The artists who lead classes, workshops and demonstrations, or who rent studio space, will be eligible to submit work for rotating shows in the commission-free gallery.

“We do have our artists give back to the program in some way,” Riplinger-Hegsted said.

A grand opening is set for Nov. 13 from 5-8 p.m., coinciding with the monthly ArtWalk in Coeur d’Alene. The gallery is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For November it will feature [be]LONGING, Megan Atwood Cherry’s University of Idaho masters of fine arts thesis exhibition.

“It’s pretty thought-provoking and moving,” Riplinger-Hegsted said. “It’s very conceptual. No one is showing work like that in Coeur d’Alene.”

Atwood Cherry, of Sandpoint, said she sees a real need for Emerge to give artists a space to share new works, including pieces unsuited to commercial exhibition, and to help others develop their skills.

“This is important, because as a method of communication, artwork needs viewer engagement and response,” she said. “Artists benefit from this exchange, as do the viewers. For the emerging artist, having a gallery exhibition in downtown Coeur d’Alene is an incredible way to build confidence and a sense of community.”

The studio space inside the building also will support a sense of community, said Atwood Cherry, who has taught art for North Idaho College since 2010.

“When artists have a room of their own, dedicated to making their work, growth happens. Emerge offers several studio spaces where artists can build both bodies of work and connections to other makers,” she said.
Three of the studios are rented to musicians with Emerge’s in-house music school. They will teach youth and adult lessons in piano, guitar and trumpet, and they also plan to lead a weekly jam session open to the public starting in November. Two other studios are rented to visual artists.

Momentum has been building for Emerge since it staged its first pop-up show with about 30 artists just over a year ago in the historic Wiggett Building down the street. When it hosted its second show there in June, the number of participating artists had doubled.

One of those artists, little-known sculptor Michael R. Lee, wowed the crowd with his realistic clay depictions of old suitcases and weathered leather bags. Lee now is a featured artist at The Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene.

“He had never put himself out there like that. He was a hobbyist,” Atwood Cherry said.

“What’s really important to me is that we find a way to keep these people here in our community,” she said. “Coeur d’Alene is worth cultivating and building up. … We need Coeur d’Alene to open up to taking risks on artists that are getting started, that are pushing the envelope and trying new things.”