Note: For months now, we have been publishing profiles of Alaska artists, by Alaska writers. Here’s how those stories on our Individual Artist Award recipients came to be. If you haven’t read them, we encourage you to start now. You’ll learn what inspires standout artists, what challenges they face and the story of how they got to where they are. Enjoy! And stay tuned. We will be announcing the 2019 Individual Artist Award recipients May 17.

By Jeremy Pataky

Photo of Jeremy Pataky by Nathaniel Wilder, 2017 Individual Artist Award recipient

Alaska wouldn’t be Alaska without the artists that call it home. Artists sharpen the collective vision of communities they inhabit; they help us to hear frequencies we’re otherwise deaf to and see colors beyond the usual spectrum. They notice, shape, critique, and manifest the world we share. Every well-crafted artwork becomes a point for people to meet, engage, and become more fully human.

Every year, Rasmuson Foundation provides awards to individual Alaska artists across disciplines. These grants provide “resources for artists to concentrate and reflect on their work, to immerse themselves in creative endeavors, and to experiment, explore, and develop their artistry more fully.” The Foundation’s Individual Artist Award program has had an immense impact over the years. The awards have become increasingly competitive and prestigious.

[Who are the artists who receive our annual awards? Learn all about them here.]

Two years ago, the Foundation began new strategies to better support award recipients. 49 Writers is pleased to be part of that through a partnership begun last year. We’re a literary nonprofit founded to support and inspire writers and readers across Alaska. We offer creative writing classes and events for writers of all levels, as well as content and programming online and via distance. We advocate for the literary arts and leverage literature to serve diverse populations throughout Alaska.

Through this new project, we assign Alaska writers to profile each Individual Artist Award recipient. Beginning with the 2017 cohort, a new web presence built around these profiles spotlights those artists — and the writers — better introducing the artists to the public while inspiring fellow artists across the state.

The 2017 group includes 35 artists — choreographers, poets and writers, multidisciplinary artists, carvers, composers, folk and traditional artists, performance artists, and more — chosen from 450 applicants and representing 14 Alaska communities. Soon we’ll begin profiling the 2018 recipients. Waiting a year to follow up after their award allows us to address what work they may have done since receiving their award.

We learned a few things the old-fashioned way in the first year of this partnership, and I think the results speak for themselves. Some of the profiles published on the Foundation site have been picked up and republished in other magazines including “Alaskan Spirit” (the Ravn Alaska inflight publication) and “First Alaskans,” and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the artists. The assignments have been a great opportunity so far for about 20 writers, and we’re expanding that pool.

These stories are helping to build a repository of Alaska art and artists at a particular point in time. With images of the artwork, excerpts of literary works and photos of the artists themselves, the project is the start of a new wing in the Foundation’s online museum of Alaska art.

We’re all eager to continue this exciting work in support of artists and writers. Have a look back at the 2017 recipients and their profiles, stay tuned for more featuring the 2018 group, and join us in congratulating the 2019 awardees when they’re announced on May 17th.

Jeremy Pataky is the author of “Overwinter” (University of Alaska Press). He’s the executive director of 49 Writers and co-publisher of Edible Alaska magazine. He migrates between Anchorage and McCarthy, Alaska.