Things I have learnt from Fairbanks and Alaska

I have been reflecting on the last few months living in Fairbanks Alaska. As I have already waxed lyrical in previous blog posts I love it here for so many reasons – the people, the country, the community feel, the weather, the weekly expos, the beading and artistic excellence, the native corporations, variety village, Fred Meyers, chena hot springs, hoodoo beer – but hey I could go on and on…

What I have really enjoyed is the connectedness between the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and the Fairbanks community, and the state of Alaska more generally. Let me explain. My first day of my Fulbright visit I was introduced all those supporting the Northern Leadership Centre at UAF at a networking luncheon. People from across the university system were represented from the Chancellor and President to student leaders and representatives from the armed forces, the city council, police and fire departments. Leadership is a community and university priority here. Over the following ten weeks I have spoken at the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary, student clubs, in MBA classes. All these opportunities have been organized by Dr Nicole Cundiff-Meyer director of the Northern Leadership Centre, and her team of Andrea Miller and Julia Moore. The feedback I have received from people listening to my experiences and research has been unexpected, exciting and thought provoking. People have been intrigued to think about the differences and similarities between Alaska and Australia.

I am also being hosted by the Native Arts department headed up by the great multi-talented artist DaKa Xeen Mehner. DaKa and his studio based Native Arts program is very exciting and very open to the broader Alaskan native and NativeAmerican contemporary artistic community. Over the past ten weeks DaKa has hosted three native artists and introduced me to over ten native artists and arts managers. I have really enjoyed attending the local first Friday art opening events including seeing new works by Joel Issak and Sonya Kelliher-Combs (both of whom I was so happy to interview as a part of my study and now call friends). I have also spent time with the Pavva Inupiaqt dancers, a local dance group, the core of which is made up by a great local family the Topkok’s.

In September my partner Amanda and I drove from Fairbanks to Anchorage to attend the opening of the Anchorage Museum’s Dena’ina Peoples exhibit. The opening featured major dance performances from five dance groups from across the Dena’ina peoples. The exciting part of this exhibition is the layering of historical and anthropological accounts, contemporary expressions, stories and artistic contributions. Whilst in Anchorage we were able to have breakfast with Willie Hensley, visit with the First Alaskans Institute and the Alaska Native Arts Foundation. Anchorage was great – so lovely to see the sea but we were keen to return to the golden heart of Alaska!

On the 3rd of October I presented the 2013 Susan Herman Distinguished Speaker lecture – a diverse audience came out on a cool Thursday evening to listen to me speak about my research I to I dive pus leadership in the arts. So great to field 30 mins of interesting and thought provoking questions and discuss the implications with a few of the Alaskan native artists whom I have interviewed for the study I am conducting here in America. Does leadership sit well alongside indigenous arts – how do indigenous artists enact leadership?

So now the final week approaches and I am looking forward to presenting at the UAF Indigenous PhD conference, attend the Elders and Youth Dialogue and the Alaskan Federation of Natives conference and social/cultural events!

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