Aaron Rodriguez believes in stepping stones, or opportunities to take him to the next level. One was a photography job at Scentsy, a fragrance company in Meridian, Idaho, while another was finding a studio space before he was ready, leading to his partnership with Matt Wordell.
“I contacted everyone I knew and said, ‘I’ve got this really great studio space and I want to go halfsies on it with someone,’” Rodriguez said. Wordell answered. Not long after, the two visited the space in Garden City – a rapidly changing urban community adjacent to Boise.
“We sat there for hours just talking about what this could be,” Rodriguez said.
What it ended up being was Visionkit, a commercial photography, production and brand support studio with one eye on business and the other on social impact.
“Matt and Aaron are intimately involved in the Boise art scene, both in the actual work they do and in their community involvement,” said clients Jennie Myers and Brad Weigle, co-founders of Boise advertising agency Against and clinical faculty in Boise State’s College of Innovation and Design.
Separate paths that merged
Rodriguez tried college three times before it clicked. He dropped out after his first year studying landscape architecture, then worked in the Colorado oil fields.
“I spent a lot of time alone in the mountains with my guitar,” he said. “I started to feel more and more disconnected from what I was doing. It wasn’t me and I didn’t feel good.”
Rodriguez enrolled at Boise State to study music. When he began studying photography, he found a new creative outlet. “I fell in love with the darkroom,” he said.
For Wordell, it was the university’s internship program that he credits for helping start his career. “When I graduated, I had enough internships and experience that I was able to launch into being a photographer full time.”
As partners, Wordell handles business, while Rodriguez handles the creative end. “There are moments where we work perfectly in harmony and become one creative organism,” Wordell said.
Doing well by doing good: The Garden City Placemaking Fund
Having bridged the gap between art and business for themselves, Rodriguez and Wordell are giving other artists the same opportunity.
“There was a lack of this middle-ground, entry-level opportunity for mural artists to gain experience to be competitive for the bigger commissions that come out of Boise,” Wordell said.
He had volunteered with Garden City arts organization Surel’s Place for years and brainstormed with Executive Director Greg Hahn and local artists to find a solution.
They formed the Garden City Placemaking Fund, a partnership among businesses, artists, art lovers and donors, whose mission is creating opportunities for public art and creative placemaking in the Treasure Valley.
In the summer of 2022, the fund sponsored several murals in Garden City, including those by popular local artists Ashley Dreyfus, Miguel Almeida, Julia Green (a 2010 Boise State art alum) and others. The fund also hosted workshops for people of all ages to learn about mural art.
Rules to live by
Paying their good fortune forward, Visionkit has hired two Boise State interns, student photographers Dawson Gutierrez and Tyler McFarland who have both photographed for Boise State Magazine.
Rodriguez and Wordell said they plan to continue their social impact work, including creating photography campaigns for nonprofits that often struggle to afford professional services. They are considering certifying Visionkit as a benefit corporation, or B Corp, recognized for social and environmental impact.
“I have no doubt their hard work and aesthetic will rub off on other creatives in the area,” said client Tony Hart, creative director for Boise-based advertising agency Duft Watterson, which hired Visionkit for a Washington Trust Bank advertising campaign.
“They walk their talk.”
By Sharon Fisher
Photos provided by Visionkit