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Out North Contemporary Art House is a multi-disciplinary art center in Anchorage, Alaska that has created an Art House Resident initiative to incubate and sustain local art groups through a collaborative, dynamic physical and community space where they can create, present, produce, teach, and reach out through spoken word, literature, theater, visual art, film, new media, music, education and journalism.

ArtPlace talked to Dawnell Smith, executive director of Out North, about the challenges of creative place making.

ARTPLACE: What are some of the challenges presented to artists and organizations trying to build creative spaces?

DAWNELL: Always, the reality of limited resources, whether workspace and meeting rooms or for projectors, speakers and microphones. When we talk of resources, though, we mostly mean time, for our greatest challenge revolves around the ability to get things done when so many of us are already taxed with overwhelming work loads.

Our Art House Resident Group initiative requires that artists, staff and volunteers already burdened by their own projects throw down for others. Sometimes this works swimmingly. One of our art house resident groups, F Magazine, threw an F-Raiser fundraiser that generated incredible community support through an auction of on-the-spot visual art, and performances that ranged from jazz and hip-hop dance to music by some of the best local bands and songwriters. These artists contributed to the magazine because they know the importance of visibility, criticism, documentation and voice through arts journalism.

Other times, artists and organizations become narrow in focus and forget to support the individuals and groups that give the art house concept its pop, In other words, it’s hard to make sure the overarching vision stays visible, to show how generosity comes full circle, to help artists and fans of the arts understand and value art forms they know or care little about.

The act of collaboration puts great demands on its participants, and it can drain you as much as elevate your work.

ARTPLACE:  Do you think these challenges will get easier as you develop the model?

DAWNELL: Some things will never change. If you put a dozen art groups in a room with a calendar and budget, there’s going to be some positioning for space and funds, not to mention bodies to do the work,

Still, we believe our Art House Resident Group model with evolve into a community that artists know about and seek. We have seen this happen already. A new theater group devoted to contemporary plays with strong female roles has emerged. Working through the particular needs and programming strengths of each group takes time.

Our model provides an amazing social and aesthetic infrastructure for cultivating innovation and experimentation, advocacy and community participation. Not every art group will want to tackle the demands of collaboration, however, and those that do need to understand the nature of collaboration to its core – from the sharing and melding of ideas and vision to the sharing and melding of workload and risk.

PHOTO: Rick Bradford

 

 

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