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‘A Happening Place to Be’ Games’ Cultural Events Venues Attract Visitors, Vendors

Tim Ellis/KUAC

The competition is heating up on this, the second full day of the Arctic Winter Games. But the action is just getting started at the many venues around Fairbanks where other games-related activities are taking place – that are not related to contests of strength and endurance.

While some 2,000 athletes are hustling to win, like these young women indoor soccer players from Nunavut practicing at the UAF Student Recreation Center, hundreds of artists and artisans also are hard at work, showcasing their wares to the crowds in town for the games and other attractions.

Pioneer Park Centennial Center, where the Folk Art Fest and Expo is going on, is one of the venues where their handiwork is available

Karen Ottenbriet is one of the vendors at the folk art fest. She’s brought a table full of hand-crafted jewelry and other works from her studio in Eagle River. That’s the “Fish Lips and Bird Teeth Studio,” she said.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
Karen Ottenbriet at her table at the Pioneer Park Centennial Center, where the Folk Art Fest and Expo and other Games-related activities are under way. At right, Amanda Brannon talks with a customer.

Ottenbriet says business was slow Monday – but then, it’s only the first day that she and most other vendors have been open for business.

“It’s like people are kickin’ tires today,” she said, “and, people are on a budget. They’re going to watch what they spend, and think about it, and probably make their purchases toward the end of the week.”

It wasn’t just the prospect of cashing in on the tourists who’ve come to Fairbanks for the Games.  Ottenbriet says she just wanted to come up here to feel the vibe.

“The Arctic Winter Games, the international appeal – people coming from all over, circumpolar nations to take part,” she said. “It just seemed like a happening place to be and meet new people.”

In the next booth over is Amanda Brannon. She flew up here with Ottenbreit from Eagle River to sell her art prints on canvas and some matted prints. Brannon says she’s enjoying her time here so far, especially the people-watching.

“It’s been really interesting watching the people from other countries wander through here and looking at the art work,” Brannon said. “And what I look forward with art festivals, folk festivals is I love to see what other artists are doing. Because in the arts, it’s a solitary business – you spend a lot of time alone in your studio. So this is a great opportunity to see what other people are doing.”

One of the people who was wandering around the folk art fest is Weice Tie, a Chinese national who’s now living in New York City. Tie and his girlfriend, Keqin Hu came up to spend a few nights to observe the aurora. He said he’d heard something about some kind of Olympics-style games going on, and wanted to find out what it was all about.

“After I got here, I heard about it,” Tie said. “I never heard about it before. But, so, the only thing I know about it now is that there’s going to be a lot of people coming.”

Tie says he’s enjoying his stay here.

“It’s a pretty nice town, actually,” he said. “Y’know, people are friendly and it’s nice.”

Another visitor at Pioneer Park is Sue – that’s Sue, who didn’t want to give her last name. She’s from Tok. And she says she’s here because she always comes here at this time of year.

“I’m here for my annual ice trip,” she said.

That would be the annual World Ice Art Championship, at Ice Park.

But she’s done that, and now she’s taking in some of Games before she goes back to Tok on Wednesday. And she’s having a heck of a time.

“I just came from speed skating. It’s ever so much fun,” she said. “And the curling – it’s great! Little tiny girls, pushing this (stone). They’re terrific, yes they are.”

You can find out more about the cultural events going on around town at the same website where complete information about the games is available – that’s

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.