SITKA_SEPT

Alaska Arts Southeast will transform a closed National Historic Landmark college into a multidimensional arts campus, bringing new life to rural Southeast Alaska. ArtPlace spoke with Chelsea Andreozzi, program administrator for the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, about the new initiative:

ARTPLACE: Is there a new challenge that engaging in creative placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you? Are there new skills required?

ANDREOZZI: In 2007, the Sheldon Jackson College closed, ending its 130 years of history in the Sitka community. The physical campus was in desperate need of repair and there seemed to be no clear solution of what to do with the place. In 2011, the College’s Board of Trustees reached an agreement. To maintain the Campus’ heritage of education in the arts, sciences and humanities, several buildings were respectfully sold to the Sheldon Jackson State Museum, the Sitka Summer Music, Youth Advocates of Sitka, and the Sitka Sound Science Center. The majority of the campus, consisting of 20 buildings and 20 acres, was given to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

What the Sitka Fine Arts Camp inherited was more than a boarded up campus. It was a challenge. We confronted a phenomenal list of maintenance issues, and it seemed a perfect catch-22: how do you fix a campus that is broken while also using the campus to develop the programs necessary to pay for the campus’ continuation? We needed to create a positive feedback loop between the two, and discovered the catalyst for achieving this is the community itself. By learning to mobilize support and to manage volunteers, we have raised over half a million dollars and began rebuilding the campus with the invaluable aid of over 25,000 volunteer hours.

The success of restoration efforts has allowed us to preserve the legacy of a national historic landmark, but it has also brought the Sitka Fine Arts Camp a new legacy. The campus is being rebuilt by the hands of hundreds of community members, leaving us with an enormous responsibility. We must constantly find ways to make our arts programs relevant, meaningful and valuable to our community. One way in which this has been accomplished is introducing an adult fine arts camp, allowing more members of our community to step beyond the role of audience of our youth programs and become active participants themselves. We have also created an afterschool fine arts program, allowing us to perpetuate the model of our summer camp programs throughout the year. By partnering with other organizations to host community events, such as the first ever Sitka TEDx, we provide a space for new ideas and new interactions. Similarly, providing low market rent has allowed a variety of educational and arts organizations to find a home on the campus, including the Island Institute and the Yoga Union.

Furthermore, taking over the campus has meant taking on the responsibilities of one of the largest landholders in the community. We are required to engage civically at all levels and consider the question of: what should we be doing here? As guardians of a national historic landmark, how do we keep the integrity of our own programs and mission of advancing the arts, while also supporting the infrastructure of a derelict campus? How do we move forward with development, while also remaining conscientious of the Sheldon Jackson Campus’ legacy?

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