As the application period for the 2017 Individual Artist Awards (IAA) nears its March 1 closing date, we caught up with 2016 Project Award recipient Sarah Mitchell of Fairbanks. For her project, Sarah produced “The Best of Bluebell: A Commemorative Album,” a collection of songs by the late Alaska songwriter and pianist Jim Bell, who entertained for 40 years at the Palace Saloon in Fairbanks.

Sarah (Photo credit: Robin Dale Ford)

Sarah (Photo credit: Robin Dale Ford)

Name: Sarah Mitchell
IAA Artistic Discipline: Presentation/Interpretation
IAA Career Stage: Emerging

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?  
Marlene Bell, Jim’s widow, has been a strong source of inspiration and feedback on this project.  Marlene is a no-nonsense artist with a keen creative sense, and she advised me to trust my gut as I make decisions about the album (which songs to include, whom to ask to sing on a particular number, etc). Marlene assured me that because I grew up listening to Jim’s music, I intuitively know how it should sound and she trusts my instincts to create a lasting tribute to Jim.

What impact did the Individual Artist Award have on your art?  
Without the IAA, carving out the necessary time and resources to produce this album would have felt virtually impossible. Being recognized by Rasmuson Foundation gave me the permission to dig in and develop my skills as both a performer and producer. I’m learning how to self-manage as an artist and how to be a better collaborator. For the first time in my life, I’m making creative growth my top priority.

Who is your favorite Alaska artist and what do you admire about that person?  
That’s a tough question!  One Alaskan artist I admire deeply is Kat Moore. She plays keys for the Anchorage-based Super Saturated Sugar Strings and has her own solo ballad project, The Forest That Never Sleeps. I first saw Kat perform about two years ago, and was blown away by her stage presence and infectious energy. When she performs, she creates a palpable connection to her audience, as well as with the musicians lucky enough to share the stage with her.

What was the happiest moment of your life as an artist?
Another tough call, but one of my happiest moments of 2016 was sharing the stage with the aforementioned singer/songwriter Kat Moore, when we threw a Piano Bar at the Palace Theatre in July.  The energy of the audience was off the charts, and getting to co-emcee with someone of Kat’s caliber was an incredible gift. Taking on the Jim Bell recording project led to a burst of new ideas and collaborations with my fellow Alaskan artists, and I’m grateful to Rasmuson Foundation for getting me started on this journey.

We hope Sarah’s experience inspires you to pursue a creative project of your own. Finish your Individual Artist Awards application today.