Empire coverage of artist's past excessive

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

This is in response to the Feb. 26 article regarding local artist Mark Horn's surrendering three pieces of art containing eagle feathers that were featured in an exhibit at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC). As President of JAHC, a Board member of Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc. and a member of the Alaska Mental Health Board, I want to express my disappointment toward your decision to publicize a charge from 20 years ago, which was not pertinent to the incident.

Mark was awarded a small grant from JAHC last fall, and was a featured artist during our February Gallery. As co-host, I valued the opportunity to honor his accomplishments as an artist and an individual striving to get his life on track. After the opening, I was contacted by a Fish & Wildlife Officer about the three pieces in question. I clarified the pieces had not sold and we discussed Mark's situation.

While I can appreciate the interest of featuring a story on illegal possession and sale of eagle parts (in this case there was no sale, and the eagle parts consisted of feathers collected outdoors), it's a stretch to find any relevancy in publicizing an unrelated charge from 20 years ago which only served to sensationalize the story and further undermine Mark's recovery efforts to rise above the stigmas from his past.

Your February 5 article "Out of the Woods" on Mark's background, his brush with death, months of rehabilitation, his continuing battle with sobriety and mental illness, and how his art "brought him out of the woods", provided insight into the struggles of this vulnerable and talented member of our community. The article was featured in the gallery show and was a proud moment for Mark.

However, the scope of your February 26 article seemed excessive and could detrimentally impact Mark's rehabilitative progress. Ironically and unfortunately, the self worth you helped to instill in Mark through your first story is now threatened by your last article.

This clearly demonstrates how media play a critical role in how an individual is perceived by society, and the need for prudent journalism. Misperceptions toward individuals like Mark, who struggle with homelessness, sobriety, and mental illness, create stigmas that can erode their sense of belonging and prohibit them from pursuing treatment and services in order to become a functioning member of the community.

Mark is trying hard to be a contributing member of our society through his art and rehabilitation. To that end, we should focus on support and encouragement toward his recovery efforts, rather than fragmenting his progress by publicizing a past mistake.

Katie Corbus


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