By Jenny Neyman
A painting is the interplay of individual brushstrokes. A photo is the composition of gradations of highlight and shadow, hue and saturation, tint and shade. The art is the sum of its parts, but the rendering of subject matter through context and perspective creates meaning greater than its components.
The new art display installation at Soldotna Creek Park does that, as well. Its parts are two wood-framed, glassed-in panels on which photo prints, paintings, drawings and other two-dimensional artwork can be exhibited out of the elements yet amid Soldotna’s busiest park, smack in the middle of downtown.
And the Soldotna Art Park itself is a component of a larger public art initiative being implemented by ARTSpace, Inc., the Rotary Club of Soldotna, city of Soldotna, Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and local businesses.
“The idea is a long-term approach to community beautification and public art where all parts fit together as a whole and don’t cost a lot of money to implement or maintain in the long term,” said Joe Kashi, president of the nonprofit ARTSpace organization. “The community has to look nice and be attractive to people to attract better-paid people to come work here. So it’s one part of a larger economic development aspect for the Soldotna community. But in and of itself, the idea of community beautification and public art makes it a nicer place for everybody.”
ArtSpace and its collaborators have a whole slate of projects to accomplish in the community. Some are already complete, including an Emerging Artists Festival held over Memorial Day weekend, the first of a biennial juried photography competition, displaying reproductions of murals submitted to Rotary’s Paint the Kenai project around town, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Soldotna Art Park was held Saturday.
Others are in the works. An installation of art display “drawers” will open at the Soldotna Public Library on Dec. 6, providing access for up to 10, curated, two- and three-dimensional bodies of artwork. A photo gear and art supply swap is being planned, an art reproduction and photo printing work space for use by the public is coming to the library, and a biennial book of artists and work from the various projects will be produced.
Other projects will be ongoing, such as art shows and sales, contests, various workshops and periodic calls for art submissions.
And they’re all interconnected — artists can use the equipment at the library to make prints to submit to the various art shows, some of the inaugural display in the Art Park consists of winners of the first biennial juried photography contest, and so on.
Self-sustainability is one of the goals of the initiative, so that the projects feed off of and into each other. They developments should also be high-quality yet affordable to establish and low-cost to maintain.
“In tight economic times, we need to find a way to do these sorts of things in high-traffic, high-volume, highly leveraged ways that don’t cost lot of money and have minimized long-term economic costs,” Kashi said. “Soldotna has a lot of talent but hasn’t had ways to showcase that talent in a way that doesn’t make people essentially spend too much time chasing small amounts of money to try to keep expensive things going. I don’t have a lot of time to bake cupcakes so we’re trying to do things in a very efficient, straightforward way.”
While the projects are open to and intended for all artists and viewers to enjoy, there’s a particular emphasis on supporting young, student and emerging artists — such as with the Emerging Artist Festival. The Art Park, for example, is a great way for an emerging artist to get their work seen by a lot of eyeballs, without having the challenge of arranging a gallery show.
“It’s really nice to have somebody like Joe, and lots of other people who are obviously supporting and encouraging local artists. It’s pretty hard to do it yourself, actually, especially when it’s not a full-time job. It’s hard to promote yourself, so this is really helpful and nice,” said Kaitlin Vadla, who has wildlife paintings on display in the Art Park.
Liam Floyd was one of the winners of ARTSpace’s first photo contest and has one of his shots on display in the park. He’s a senior in high school and just took up photography about 10 months ago. Having exposure has been a huge boost, he said.
“I’m excited to get my name out there. People are getting to see my stuff. It’s here and people come by. And in the summer, hopefully it’s going to draw a lot more attention,” he said.
He and Vadla were at the Art Park ribbon cutting, where Kelly Keating and Geri Litzenberger were recognized for their construction and contributions to the design of the installation, as well as Foster Construction for its donation of crushed rock to make the area wheelchair-accessible. Newly elected Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague cut the ribbon at noon Saturday during a brief break in the day’s rain showers.
“I checked the Doppler right before I came over and it’s supposed to start raining at one o’clock. … I’ve only been mayor about a week but my timing is pretty good sometimes,” he said.
“I think that quality of life is a very important component of life here Soldotna,” Sprague said. “We’ve got a beautiful park and a beautiful location and I think that the arts are really a key component of quality of life. And I think that this art park is really another component to uplift the quality of life here in Soldotna to improve what we have and to build on for the future.”
Kashi, who is as inexhaustible a source of ideas as he is an irrepressible source of quips and wry commentary, deflected appreciation sent his way.
“There’s really enough credit in this for everybody,” Kashi declared, and explained that this notion came from Johnny Torrio. “Who, in case you don’t remember, was Al Capone’s partner in Chicago. Johnny retired from the Chicago mob and from working with Al Capone and died a natural death. Which, of course, if you’re a mobster, usually is lead poisoning, but in Johnny’s case he died of old age. He believed there was enough for everybody and share the credit, and I concur.”