Plugged In: New organization has heart for public art



By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

We’ve had more than enough discussion in this space about lenses, gear and other technical topics lately, so, as the Italian side of my family would say, “Basta!” (Enough, already!)

Instead, let’s give some thought to how art and other visual attractions might make our area a more pleasant place to live and work, in the process boosting the local economy over the long term.

There’s a lot of public art happening in Soldotna this summer, with something for everyone. Soldotna’s free public arts festival will be held May 23 in Soldotna Creek Park, attracting new and emerging artists from around Alaska. There’s music, free snacks, demonstrations, a lot of fun and the award of some serious cash prizes on the agenda. It’s a free, new, family friendly event with accessible artwork suitable for all ages.

Soldotna’s Alaska Emerging Artists Festival is open to any “emerging artist” working in a 2D medium who has not had more than one solo exhibit. Established artists with several shows on their resume are just that, “established,” and more easily able to secure recognition and exhibits. “Emerging” artists, on the other hand, are usually students or people with a regular job who need a first “break” and some encouragement and public exposure. The invited musicians, too, are “emerging.” More information and the day’s schedule are posted at

Not all of the submitted artwork was accepted for display. After reviewing all of the submissions, the Soldotna jury, which included Cam Choy, Kenai Peninsula College associate professor of art, and Nathan Nash, KPC adjunct art professor, invited 15 artists to each display between six and 10 submitted pieces that comprise a consistent body of work, a group of individual art items related by theme, subject or technique. That provides a more comprehensive and coherent view of each person’s viewpoint and work. The invited artists may sell their work to the public without any commission being charged, a win-win approach benefitting both new artists and purchasers.

During Saturday’s exhibit, the jury will review all of the exhibited bodies of work and award a $1,000 best of show cash prize, a $300 second place, and a $150 third place.

In addition to the invited bodies of work competing for these cash prizes, local 4-H and high school art students will have their own adjoining nonjuried display. No one knows what they’ll display until the day of the public arts festival, but, in keeping with the Memorial Day weekend, the organizing committee particularly encouraged patriotically themed art that explores the American experience.

A free arts festival, open to the public, with relatively large cash awards, free refreshments and no sales commission obviously has costs. Thanks to help by many local businesses, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and the city of Soldotna, the arts festival paid for itself without the need for fundraising, grants or other public money.

“Kenai’s Identity” by Paul Tornow is one of several images created for the Paint the Kenai community mural project last year that are now available as public murals around town in a project facilitated by ARTSpace.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll see eight large public art murals going up around town at Sweeney’s Clothing, the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, Nancy Field State Farm Agency, Blazy Construction, Beemun’s, Cook Inlet Dental, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and our own Kashi Law Offices. Those mural proposals were submitted by local artists as part of Soldotna Rotary Club’s Paint the Kenai project.

Large-format, 4-by-8-foot photographic reproductions of every mural proposal submitted to the Soldotna Rotary Club’s project were offered to merchants and governmental entities for purchase, with only one copy made of each image. Participating businesses chose from among the images still available, and G.F. Sherman Signs turned those selections into high-grade photographic reproductions on rigid aluminum suitable for years of outdoor public display. After deducting the cost of producing each mural, $400 will be paid to each artist whose image was chosen, and their image will be copyrighted with the Library of Congress. What money remained paid for this year’s free public art festival.

Mural sales continue, with periodic calls for new images to be considered for inclusion in future sales. Although the first Paint the Kenai mural project attracted mostly painters, future Picture the Kenai photomural projects are imminent. Summer’s a great time to start capturing artistically arranged photos on the Kenai Peninsula.

You can see the murals going up around town and learn more about each artist by pointing your browser to

Over the summer, you’ll likely see outdoor display cases installed in several public spaces, featuring the work of local students and emerging artists. Once in place, these displays will be an easily sustainable, low-cost approach for several local students and emerging artists to display their work in high-traffic public places with good public exposure. Three or four students and their families can arrange their own First Friday debuts and invite family and friends to a picnic opening. Because these displays are intended for public areas, the artwork will be curated to ensure both good quality and family friendliness.

These programs, with other indoor programs scheduled for autumn and winter, are sponsored by ARTSpace Inc., a new IRS 501c3 arts-oriented nonprofit corporation located in Soldotna, with the assistance and support of the Soldotna Rotary Club, city of Soldotna, art faculty of Kenai Peninsula College, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Kenai Peninsula District 4-H and local businesses too numerous to mention here.

ARTSpace’s premise is that high-quality, family friendly public art should be a fundamental part of our community. In order to be sustainable without excessive effort and cost, public art displays should have high visibility in public places but low long-term costs. Given that fishing-related tourism is in decline and long-term petroleum industry activity is uncertain, public art is even more important these days. Public art can improve the entire community, its visual appearance and livability, and its long-term economic development and property values.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his articles can be accessed through his website,


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Filed under art, community, photography, Plugged in

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