Located between 8th and 9th street and Bannock and Idaho in downtown Boise, Freak Alley is currently recognized as the largest open-air mural gallery in the northwestern United States. It is considered a “notable venue for murals, graffiti, and public art” with its goal being to promote free expression and to support a thriving artistic community in Boise. This effort began in 2002 when Colby Akers was given the opportunity to paint the backdoor of Moon’s Café, one of several buildings that shared the back alley space. Neighboring businesses took interest in Colby’s work and wanted the project extended to include their own buildings. Over the next several years, dozens of works were subsequently added throughout the alley and eventually extended into an adjacent gravel parking lot, the contributions of hundreds of local artists and community members; an indoor art gallery was also created by the 9th street entrance. If one looks closely, It is also possible to see a few “ghost signs”, old advertisements typically hand-painted over brick on the sides of buildings, scattered throughout the gallery. These ads suggest back alley access to the various businesses that previously occupied the alley and serve to demonstrate how the alley has been repurposed and evolved over the decades.
The artwork showcased varies in scale, style, and subject matter. Some works are no larger than a typical framed painting while others take up entire sides of building. Some murals provide social and political commentary and reference pop culture while others display psychedelic imagery. While the messages of some works may be controversial and the subject matter unsettling to some, the gallery as a whole is appropriate for all ages when precautions are made for more sensitive or younger viewers. New works are formally added on a nearly annual basis, usually an event during the summer, either painting over or being incorporated into older murals or covering vacant space. The project is supported solely by volunteer work and donations in the form of money and art supplies. The alley is a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike and is often used as a meeting place for multiple events such as photoshoots and cosplay. Freak Alley is a primary example of Boise’s inclusivity, a space dedicated to free expression showcasing a vibrant artistic community where anyone can get involved.