The Art House Resident ProgramAnchorage, AK
Out North Contemporary Art House is a multi-disciplinary art center in Anchorage, Alaska that supports contemporary performance and visual art. Last year, Out North developed an “Art House Resident Program” to incubate and sustain small local art groups that fulfill Out North’s mission. The initiative is designed to create a collaborative, dynamic physical and community space where a dozen or more art house resident groups can create, present, produce, teach, and reach out through spoken word, literature, theater, visual art, film, new media, dance, music, education and journalism. The mission is to push the boundaries of content and community, give voice to those marginalized because of identity or circumstance, advance critical thinking and social justice, and build community pride, resilience and resolve.
ArtPlace asked Dawnell Smith, executive director of Out North, about how the project has garnered political traction.
DAWNELL: The visibility generated through the Art House Resident Project has drawn increased attention to our role as a cultural space. People hear about what we’re doing. They notice photos and status updates about Out North from their friends on Facebook. They comment on the number and variety of art groups in the fold, the diversity of art forms being produced and presented – from musical improv performed to silent films, to indigenous storytelling and a retrospective of jazz dance in the 20th century.
Our presence as a community art space taking on a singular array of community and professional art projects and creative collaborations gives us political traction with city leaders, arts organizations, artists, and our neighbors. More people want to do more things at Out North, and they look to us for guidance on how to bring their creative ideas to fruition. Colleagues ask to collaborate on grant proposals, and leaders from funding agencies have offered help with strategic planning and development work. Upon seeing an Out North nametag at a chamber event, a local legislator said, “Well you’ve got a whole lot going on these days, and I like what I see.”
Our willingness and flexibility in taking on new creative work, community events, and emerging and difficult art making entrenches us in people’s minds as a space that relishes activities that bring people together, that break the silence and stigma of troubling subject matter, that embrace the innovative and risky, and that advocate for social justice and individual opportunity.
Our enhanced saturation in the community brings its own burdens, however. There’s pressure to tackle every project, run with every idea, succeed on every level, and as a relatively small and progressive multi-disciplinary art house in a remote city, we struggle with the challenges of calling people to action when a show presents difficult content, or when the ticket price rises above $15 to $20.
Moreover, we’re still developing our administrative infrastructure to handle multiple art groups seeking grants, studio, rehearsal and performance space, along with a different performance every weekend — sometimes several activities in our black box theater a day.
Yes, we have gained social, cultural, and political traction with leaders in our community and with the people who create, perform and witness art at Out North, but with this traction comes the challenge of building, learning and evolving an already burgeoning Art House Resident model that meets expectations without draining capacity.
We are lucky to be at this place, eager to nurture it as it blooms.