Out North Contemporary Art House will be a collaborative, dynamic community space where a dozen resident groups can create, present, produce, teach, and reach out through art, music, education and journalism to build community pride, resilience and resolve.

Dawnell Smith, executive director of Out North, brings us this update on their progress:

SMITH: Risk-taking happens regularly at a progressive art house in a remote state. Out North engages with an entrenched community activated by a notoriously itinerant population. People come and go with the seasons, for creative opportunities, to get educated, and to experience personal growth.

An artist who writes and performs a remarkable piece about dislocation, connection, and suicide moves to the Northwest to raise sheep. Another working on an augmented reality project about climate change in a coastal community later teaches high school students in the state’s largest city how to design websites. Projects and personnel constantly change, and our greatest risk involves building the organizational capacity for supporting this growth and change.

Alaskans from villages and hub towns move to and from Anchorage for work, school, medical care, provisions, family connections, and a plethora of reasons, while people from the Lower 48 move to Alaska for jobs, as part of the military, to find space and adventure, and to return home or plant roots.

People move in and out of Anchorage, the city’s cultural community, and the associated leadership roles.

Out North’s “Art House Resident” initiative involves creating a collaborative, dynamic physical and community infrastructure for a dozen art house resident groups doing work in all forms and genres, from spoken word and film to new media, dance, music, theater, education and journalism.

The people engaged in or leading these groups come and go, change direction, and regroup.

Our goal centers on sustaining the organizational capacity for nurturing these groups while allowing them to evolve, extend, gain traction, move on and/or set roots. This means finding the financial resources to train and keep staff, and assist art house resident groups in developing administrative skills and organizational structure.

This year we brought on marketing and community radio station staff, along with new expectations and larger workloads that demand efficiency and resiliency, and a plan for sustaining and evolving systems for coordinating workflow so that the administration of art making meets the needs of our creative community.

To address the risk, we established a consortium of board and staff members to address sustainability, and we hold monthly meetings with art house resident groups to define the needs and contributions of each group, as well as the nature of incubation and collaboration.

Our goal is to find annual funding to support the Art House model, and relieve us from looking for a series of small grants and revenue sources for each Art House Resident event or project.

Have we prevailed? Well, the jury is still out. There’s much to do in terms of development and organizational structure. We worked with one Art House Resident Group to get sufficient funding for a production of “1,000 Cranes” and the production of a video and workshop on suicide prevention. We have written and received grant support for other Resident Groups to hold youth art competitions and workshops.

For us, “prevail” means knowing our legacy, our identity, our purpose, and our ability to bend with change while providing the root system for holding it all together. Our goal, then, is to remain steady even when the prevailing winds change director or gain speed.

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