Juneau blessed with fine arts in summer

Posted: Wednesday, July 06, 2005


The Alaska Observer

This summer I've noticed a wonderful thing: The arts are everywhere! I had the privilege of attending the Annual Meeting of the Alaska State Council on the Arts a few weeks ago in Anchorage. This was a great opportunity to meet fellow council members face-to-face (those I didn't already know), and to consider some progress recently made in artistic endeavors in Alaska.

Gov. Murkowski appointed me vice chairman of the council back in October, but due to budgetary constraints we usually meet by teleconference. Getting together in person with the council's hard-working staff alongside the talented council members was a treat.

We had a lot to celebrate in this meeting, foremost the successful passage of a $75 increment to our annual budget in the recently concluded legislative session. Some readers may remember the 1980s when the State Council on the Arts had a really large budget ($6 million) and granted what would today be considered enormous sums to local arts groups.

Over the years the Legislature has significantly whittled this figure down, with flat funding over the past few years. I'm very grateful to the Murkowski administration for recognizing the worthwhile, indeed invaluable, job the state council plays in promoting the arts in Alaska.

The arts provide what are known as instrumental benefits in our society, helping to create jobs, making students better at learning, and ultimately making people into better, more perceptive and involved citizens. But the intrinsic value of the arts is a benefit that I want to make sure doesn't go overlooked. The pleasure one gets from attending a play, hearing a concert, reading a poem or story, or viewing some beautiful art, is just as important as creating jobs, even though it may be more difficult to quantify. I am sure you know just what I mean. Of course the private sector must generate most artistic activity, but wisely invested seed money from a public agency, like the state council, goes such a long way to increasing opportunities for all Alaskans.

One opportunity I recently had to enjoy the arts in Alaska was as an actor at the Prince William Sound Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez. This was the eighth year I had the pleasure of attending this event, and it was just as incredible as in prior years, despite some changes it's undergone.

The founder of the event, Dr. Jody McDowell, has left Prince William Sound Community College for a position Outside, and she will be sorely missed. Some of her close friends, luminaries in the international theatrical community, also didn't make it back to Valdez this year, but I'm pleased to report that the event is still going strong. Some 200 works were submitted to the play laboratory, and 75 of these were read by actors (including this columnist) before the playwrights and a panel of experts who responded for every one's benefit.

This process helps playwrights at all stages of their craft hone their work, and write better and better pieces. Juneau's Perseverance Theatre represented the capital city with a traveling production of Columbinus, just as forceful and thought-provoking as what we saw on the stage in Douglas this spring. If you've never made it to Valdez for this event, I highly recommend it.

Closer to home, there is a ton of quality artistic activity. First Fridays continue unabated through the summer months, with shows at local galleries including our little space at the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council (on whose board I also serve). JAHC's Gallery Committee is just getting ready to pick artists to show in our space and in two other downtown venues in the coming year.

Our Concerts-in-the-Park continue to delight Friday night audiences, even in the rain (I'm sorry for readers who missed Animatronic Stage Show's stunning performance last Friday night). The State Museum drew a huge crowd for our Independence Day picnic this past Monday, and anyone who hasn't seen the Ray Troll and Fred Machetanz shows has the rest of the summer to remedy this oversight. Juneau is truly blessed as an arts-rich community.

It doesn't take a lot to enjoy the arts in Alaska's capital city, and one further chance I had to enjoy seen artistic expressions was in the Juneau Fourth of July Parade. While not every entry was to my liking, I was impressed by the range of ideas, and the way in which they were executed. Hats off to all of Juneau, for living the artistic life, and making me grateful to live here.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Juneau.

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