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Artists Stage Intervention, "Die-In"

Alaska artists are staging a week of protest events around the state. Today (Wednesday) a coalition of artists are draping works in downtown Fairbanks in black funeral cloth. They say they are grieving the loss of state funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts. On Tuesday (Yesterday) the group draped large works at the west end of Fairbanks. 

Two large sculptures outside the Museum of the North were draped in black cloth, as if for a funeral. Klara Maisch was part of a group of about 15 artists who, she says, were grieving.

“Just a broad array of loss. And as artists, we look for a visual way to deal with it.”

Under the work called “Totem” by Bernard Hosey, stands a woman in black, her face covered in a funeral veil.

“I have created this character called the Art Widow. She shows up when creativity is threatened.”

The Art Widow is Sheryl Maree Reily, who was the coordinator of the draping event.

“It’s part of a statewide response by artists to the elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts in the recent budget cuts.”        

Reily says there will be protests this week in Sitka, Homer and Quinhagak. And in Anchorage, works that were commissioned or paid for by the Arts Council will be draped in black.

“We are taking a looser approach, because we feel that art filters down through the entire community.”

The Alaska State Council provides small grants for individual artist projects as well as for institutions. Those small grants are often leveraged into larger amounts for the Fairbanks Concert Association and the Fairbanks Symphony, for example. The biggest match is from the federal government: the National Endowment for the Arts provides about $700,000 to art projects in Alaska. The governor’s veto means that is gone as well.

It would also affect arts education, such as the Artists in Schools residency program. Also the Governor’s Arts & Humanities Awards, the Silver Hand Seal used to authenticate Native art work, an art therapy program for military service members called Creative Forces, and the Poetry Out Loud competition.

Reily says the artists whose works were draped on Tuesday were supportive of the protest. But not the University, who asked the artists to remove the draping. 

Other art interventions continue through the week. About 60 musicians in Fairbanks held a “die-in” on the stage of Charles Davis Concert Hall in Fairbanks Tuesday evening. 

If the governor’s veto goes through, Alaska will be the only state without a Council on the Arts.