By Jenny Neyman
When she heard her name announced, Julie Drake couldn’t quite believe she’d won the Alaska Emerging Artist Competition and its $1,000 first prize, held as part of the Soldotna Memorial Day Public Art Festival on May 23 at Soldotna Creek Park.
“She’s like, ‘Me? Me? No!’ And you kind of stood there for a minute and we’re like, ‘Come on!’” said Shauna Thornton, one of the organizers of the festival.
Then again, the whole concept of being an “artist” is still pretty new to Drake. The Anchorage book retailer has been a quilter for years, but she only started making art quilts in the last couple of years.
She saw a call for entries for the art competition and thought, why not? And on Saturday, when the winners were announced, her question became, who, me?
“I thought it was pretty exciting and it’s kind of good affirmation. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, doing the bookstore thing, so it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m good at something else, too,’” Drake said.
Amy Kruse, of Kasilof, found validation in the competition, as well. She, like many of the artists at the festival, fits her artwork in among the demands of life. She would like to do more with her painting, but finding the time and the confidence to pursue it can be a challenge.
“I have an 18-month-old so it can be very, like a balancing act to do stuff like this. And it was difficult really to get everything ready. What matters the most to me is spending the time with my son, and then second is painting and stuff, and third is housework,” Kruse said.
Her work was recognized with second place. And beyond the $300 prize, she also felt rewarded with encouragement and impetus to do more.
“It means a lot to me personally to boost my morale to keep doing what I’m doing, to push myself a little bit more because it obviously does accomplish something,” she said.
Third place went to Francine Long, of Palmer, for her watercolors. The high school math teacher doesn’t lack for passion to produce artwork. She’d like to take early retirement at 20 years of teaching and paint full time, but finding opportunities to advance her work to that point has been difficult. Which is why the art festival was so welcome.
“I got several commissions today and I sold a bunch of my cards. And just meeting people and getting my name out there and meeting other artists, it’s just been really good,” Long said.
That was the point of the festival — to provide emerging artists with encouragement, recognition and an opportunity to connect with viewers and other artists.
“They all had fun meeting each other and talking to customers and they’ve done really well for commissions and selling their artwork today which is amazing for how crummy the weather was,” said Thornton, treasurer for Art Space, the new, community art-focused nonprofit organization that organized the festival, in conjunction with the city of Soldotna and Kenai Peninsula College and with help from many business sponsors and volunteers.
The festival included the main display from the emerging artists, selected from entries that came from across the state, as well as smaller, Memorial Day-themed displays open to area student and 4-H artists. There were workshops taught by local art instructors, and live music provided by young musicians from the area.
And there was a biting wind and intermittent showers over the park, but that didn’t stop the show from going on.
“Even though the weather was kind of crummy, the people came and they looked, and they stayed as long as they could because it was kind of chilly. But we had I would say probably in new faces, I would say all of town came almost. It was awesome the turnout,” Thornton said.
The festival was just the first element of an initiative to spread art throughout the community. Art Space also has been working with artists from last year’s Paint the Kenai mural project and local businesses and organizations to get reproductions of the murals hung up around town. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce will have maps available soon showing the locations of the murals on display. Also in the works are displays installed at high-traffic areas around town to show off local art, impromptu flash galleries, workshops and more.
And, next year, another art festival.
“We’re working towards the emerging artists next year helping mentoring the new artists coming in, so there’s always a place and always a learning curve for new artists, because that’s always the hard part,” Thornton said.
In the meantime, to keep up with Art Space’s plans to add art to the community, visit http://www.artspaceak.org.