Through story, Ishmael Hope looks toward the future of Native culture while trying to honor and show respect toward the past.
"What I'm trying to create is a high level of communication," said the 20-year-old Inupiaq and Tlingit member of the Kiks'adi Clan. "Communicating with the imagination, with the body. To discover and rediscover play. To discover and rediscover the actual physical sensation of dream and story."
Hope is the coordinator of "Beyond Heritage: Native Playreading and Performance Festival," a partnership between Perseverance Theatre and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. The blend of traditional and contemporary Native performances are planned for Nov. 17 to 22, and will include storytelling, poetry readings, a traditional regalia fashion show and more.
The festival's opening performances will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17, at Perseverance Theatre and will include storytelling by Bob Sam of Sitka and rapping by John White.
On Monday Hope, Sam, and Gene Tagaban will give presentations at the Harborview Tlingit immersion class, Ya Koos Alternative High School and the Zach Gordon Youth Center.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the festival will pick back up at Perseverance Theater with performances by Tagaban, Dave Hunsaker, Marie Olson, Sam, Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, Shadow Hotch and others, beginning each night at 7 p.m.
The final evening of the festival will begin at 7 p.m. at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall and include a speech by elder Marie Olson, performances by Hope, Sam and Tagaban, and a traditional regalia fashion show.
Hope said he wants to bring together traditional and contemporary Native performance art to look beyond heritage and help carry the Native culture into the future.
"There's a big rift between (Native) culture and the heritage," he said. "Some of those things that we have in our heritage are vital, but when you forget what the traditions are for, things start feeling flattened, forgotten and dying."
Hope said the festival is "a chance to show a lot of the community, a lot of Native students, the possibilities of creating possibilities and sharing ideas."
Sybil Davis of the arts council said festivals such as "Beyond Heritage" help Juneau become "a fertile ground for young artists."
"It is critical to validate and support artists such as Ishmael," Davis said. "It really encourages them when they are supported because we are saying that we believe in you and we trust you. I think what happens is the artist rises to the challenge, and with that you get energy, confidence, and your creativity to work together."
Hope is using art to work with young people and elders to help preserve and transcend Native culture.
"It's important to keep a high level of diplomacy with any Native arts and Native politics because there is a lot of hurt," he said. "I don't want to ignore things like alcohol and addiction, and jealousy and infighting. I want to be part of a generation that heals from these things. The trick is to have the diplomacy and public service and to still be free with art."
The freedom and inspiration behind Hope's art comes from his family, he said, especially from his mother, Elizabeth Hope, a poet and teacher who died five years ago.
"All I'm trying to do right now is live my mom's legacy," he said. "Real cultural education, that's what my mom showed me."
Hope said he is trying to blend the pleasure and the pain of the past and the present, and celebrate it through storytelling, as his mother did.
"I saw a lot of the pain she went through, and I can't place where a lot of that pain came from," he said. "I also saw a lot of the fire she had, and the total joy."
Hope plans to perform several of his mother's pieces, written under the name Sister Goodwin, at the festival.
Producing director Jeffrey Herrmann of Perseverance Theater said the idea of this festival is to allow the past to have a major influence on the art while highlighting what's coming next with Native performance.
"We knew there needed to be another showcase for Native performance," he said. "We can't call ourselves a theater of this community if the work on the stage isn't reflective of our community, and that's the reason why it's important for us to get ('Beyond Heritage') on the stage."
By celebrating and producing contemporary Native art and story telling, Hope believes it will help define the Native culture of the future.
"Pretty soon America, Alaska, will see how much they need a culture this vibrant," he said. "This culture is not something to be kept on life support or on welfare. It's something that's going to thrive, and not just affect our Native culture, but farther."
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