Plugged In: Create art opportunity in the space you live

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Alaska’s recent budget crisis highlights the economic risks of depending largely on natural resource extraction industries beyond effective local influence and direction.

Resource-extraction economies, whether extracting timber, oil or salmon, too often experience boom-and-bust cycles caused by external factors about which local residents and businesses can do little or nothing. Markets change on a global basis. Resources are depleted. Industry economics are affected by distant environmental and regulatory changes. Decisions that make or break a local or statewide economy are made in corporate board rooms and governmental offices thousands of miles away, unaffected by local influence, control and oversight.

Although resource-extraction industries will always be a critical and valued foundation of Alaska’s economy, a long memory is not required to recall what happens to local residents and businesses when crude oil, salmon and timber prices slide. It’s only prudent to hedge against that economic volatility.

Some troubled resource-dependent areas have regained a measure of local economic control and have enhanced their local economies by improving their visual and cultural attractiveness, becoming destinations rather than just places to stop for gas along the way. Some examples include Park City, Utah; Mendocino, California; and our own Kenai Peninsula neighbor, the city of Seward.

Promoting their natural beauty, these areas have attracted a stronger economic base that’s less affected by the booms and busts of natural resource industries. In most of these instances, the common thread is generally a business, private, government partnership to regenerate local economies and property values through civic beautification, public art and a more interesting and vibrant local cultural scene.

Sustained economic progress in the Internet era is driven by technologies that are distance-insensitive. It’s just as easy and fast to communicate and work thousands of miles away by email or telephone as it is to contact a person in the next building of an office campus located in a congested, polluted urban area. Relative to other less-developed areas, the central Kenai Peninsula has a major advantage in its high-speed fiber-optic Internet capabilities.

As a result, there is less need for higher-paid technology workers to locate in an unpleasant, expensive urban area, rather than an area offering a higher quality of life for young families, lower living costs and extensive outdoor recreational activities. Although many educated technology workers might otherwise be attracted to an outdoor-oriented area like the central peninsula, a lack of cultural amenities can be a major deterrent to many. By making our area more aesthetically attractive and culturally vibrant, local residents and businesses can directly influence and enhance our long-term economic development.

Doing this as inexpensively as possible, with broad-based community consensus, is always important. It’s crucial during tight economic times.

By partnering with the city of Soldotna, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Soldotna Rotary Club, Kenai Peninsula College, 4-H and local businesses, Soldotna’s nonprofit ARTSpace, Inc., is implementing a community-based public art program that’s efficient, low cost and easily sustainable because it’s an integrated program in which every activity mutually supports every other part of the project.

ARTSpace’s long-term projects include:

  • Periodic calls for the submission of thematically related bodies of work by Alaska artists, to be used for a variety of exhibits, festivals, public art murals and archival books of the best local art work. By building a stock of quality, multiuse art submissions, ARTSpace can quickly mount new exhibits and projects without the lengthy time otherwise required to mount any project when entries are separately solicited.
  • An annual, professionally curated Emerging Artists Festival at Soldotna Creek Park, with significant cash juried prizes, selected and judged on submitted bodies of work. Encouraging emerging artists is an important way to ensure that public art remains democratic and open to all talent, rather than confined to a few long-established artists. It’s also a good way to encourage students.
  • Promotion and sale of curated, 4-by-8-foot outdoor murals to supporting businesses, with eight installed to date in 2015, and a second round of murals soon. Point your Internet browser to http://www.artspaceak.org/murals to see the murals already being installed. Participating mural artists and purchasers will be invited to a private gathering in which their contributions will be recognized and appreciated.
  • Installation of a grouping of permanent outdoor display cases in Soldotna parks suitable for up to four simultaneous curated summer exhibits, particularly of already-submitted bodies of work by students and emerging artists.
  •  A “drawers” program at the Soldotna Public Library providing yearlong indoor access for up to 10 curated 2-D and 3-D bodies of work drawn from prior bodies of work submissions.
  • A periodic fine art photography competition, in conjunction with and published by the Redoubt Reporter newspaper, with juried cash prizes. Digital photography is the most generally accessible entre into the arts for most members of the public.
  • An annual no-charge, no-commission photographic gear and art supply swap-and-sell day in a public facility.
  • Providing training for community artists to copyright their work by making and depositing with the Library of Congress photo books suitable for archiving all or a portion of their lifetime art work.
  • Instituting a curated archive of such artist books for long-term public reference at the Soldotna Public Library.
  • A self-published annual or biennial book of selected area artists and work drawn from all aspects of this program, available at cost when preordered.
  • An invitational, no-commission, no-fee exhibit in September where artists and likely artwork purchasers can mingle and deal in a pleasant, low-key environment.
  • Educational opportunities. If you’re an accomplished artist who can teach others in a community schools setting, email your proposal for a community art techniques class and a resume to artspaceak@gmail.com.

Suggestions are welcome, particularly if they’re an innovative, low-cost way to improve our community’s appearance and broaden art participation by local residents. Email them to artspaceak@gmail.com.

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, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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