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The Artist Who Launched Others’ Art Careers

large art installation on ceiling of gallery space with viewer looking up
John Grade “Seeps of Winter” in Suyama Space | Photo by John Grade

Beth Sellars, ’81, MA education with an art history emphasis, knew as early as age 9 that she wanted to make a living through art. In her 20s, as a painter with a bachelor’s degree and plenty of ambition, she was starting to make inroads in Boise’s arts community. Then her husband died unexpectedly.

“I thought the only way that an artist in Boise, Idaho, is going to support three children on her own is to go back to school and get a teaching certificate,” she remembered. She returned to college to obtain her teaching credentials but landed at the Boise Art Museum along the way.

“I guess I got into the museum world through the back door, sort of, and all of a sudden I was acting director. I curated shows for five years but I didn’t have a deep background in art history so I resigned from the museum and went back to Boise State to get a master’s degree.”

A flexible program in the College of Education allowed her to customize her degree, and she went on to run galleries in Moscow, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington, serve on a National Endowment for the Arts panel, and work as the curator for the city of Seattle’s portable collection before stumbling upon the opportunity of a lifetime — partnering with architect George Suyama, who shared a lifelong love of art and owned a unique property in Seattle’s historic Belltown neighborhood. Together, they formed Suyama Space.

Gallery director talks to crowd
Beth Sellars at her gallery closure party | Photo by Swae Photography

Over 19 years, 64 artists created unique work in Suyama.

“It was probably the most satisfactory period of time I’ve ever had,” Sellars said. “Suyama was a laboratory for these artists. Many of them had not really done anything large-scale. They could not bring in pre-existing work; they had to respond to the unique architecture of the space.”

Suyama Space was an unusual program and it gained a lot of national attention. It also helped launch the careers of many artists.

“It exploded their thinking and their careers, artists like John Grade, who has gone on to great success,” she said. Grade had a major show at the Smithsonian this past year, has a permanent work in the main lobby of the Seattle Art Museum, and recently brought Sellar’s story full circle back to Boise when he completed a piece for the Boise Art Museum.

“Knowing we played a part in elevating these artists’ careers is the most satisfying element of the whole 19 years,” Sellars said. “It has been such a satisfying career for me.”

On Dec. 16, 2016, the 55th and final exhibition closed in Suyama Space. The full story is featured in “Suyama Space: 1998-2017,” a book just published by the gallery.

More details are available at