Why Mountain View? Why not downtown? Why not Spenard? Why not anywhere else? These are questions I frequently hear when people learn of the plan to create an arts and culture center in Mountain View.

Posted by Helen Howarth, Program Officer


Why Mountain View? Why not downtown? Why not Spenard? Why not anywhere else? These are questions I frequently hear when people learn of the plan to create an arts and culture center in Mountain View.

Mountain View is an Anchorage neighborhood viewed as a place of “last resort.” Crime rates are high; one in four residents is impoverished; 93 percent of the students qualify for the free/reduced lunch program; and only 22 percent of the housing stock is owner occupied.

After an intensive community engagement process, Mountain View residents and stakeholders developed a comprehensive plan to revitalize their neighborhood. The plan is to eliminate and rehabilitate blighted housing and commercial properties; and attract and create jobs and enterprise using arts and culture as the leverage for redevelopment. The housing work is well under way; developing a strong and vibrant commercial corridor is the next step. Key to the neighborhood plan is construction of a multi-disciplinary arts and culture center on the six parcel John’s RV site, a property centrally located along Mountain View Drive’s commercial corridor.

Why Mountain View? You need only type in arts + community development in your favorite search engine to see the many success stories about the value of arts and culture in neighborhood and community development. Nationally, the role of community arts and cultural centers in economic, educational and cultural development is well-documented. The center will create infrastructure to catalyze economic investment; stimulate creative enterprise and jobs; attract visitors to the neighborhood; and foster civic engagement.

Why Mountain View? Mountain View is a place that encourages creativity, culture and expression. There is more visible culture in Mountain View than probably any other neighborhood in Anchorage. In Mountain View you can see:

Samoan men, sitting around a hibachi in their apartment parking lot, their big booming voices singing traditional songs night after night.

Kids spinning on their heads as they practice break-dancing moves on a piece of linoleum in a parking lot.

Young men crafting intricate stencils with Exacto-knives and creating art with spray paint that fetches $500 at a gallery opening.

Kids working with artists to create a lively sculpture garden and art banners that change a barren lot into a vibrant community park.

I’ve heard “raise the rafters” church singing that floats down the street. I’ve seen teen boys huddled close, singing four-part harmony so tight it sounds like one. I’ve watched the community come out in force to cheer on talented and aspiring young singers, rappers, dancers at a talent show.

Why Mountain View? Because Mountain View is one of the few areas in Anchorage that provides affordable housing, industrial warehouses and retail opportunities all within walking distance of each other. These three attributes provide the perfect incubator for artists and their ideas.

The industrial space gives artists the freedom to explore and get messy. Retail provides space for the development of cultural and artist led businesses. The affordable housing available in Mountain View is a big plus for emerging artists. Grocery and other stores are in the neighborhood, as are great bike trails and public transportation. Three schools are in the neighborhood. Mountain View really has it all.

Years ago I had the privilege of hearing Bill Strickland speak about his success with the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh. He began in a down-and-out neighborhood in Pittsburgh by taking his love of ceramics and showing youth how to create with clay. Over the years that vision grew to include all forms of visual and performing arts, and has now expanded into economic development opportunities for their community.

Strickland won a MacArthur Genius Award but his “kids,” his neighborhood, were the bigger winners. Eighty percent of students that go through the Manchester program not only graduate from high school, but go on to college

Strickland says it best, “If an environment is violent, destructive, destabilized, and discouraging, the citizens will feel and act exactly the same way. If the environment is hopeful, nourishing, and positive — if it generates the capacity for income and wealth accumulation — then the population will reflect that. In my view, there can’t be any change unless the fundamentals of the environment are in place to encourage that growth and creativity.”

Strickland created the Manchester Craftsmans’ Guild and changed the fundamentals of his neighborhood’s environment. An arts center in Mountain View will do the same. Not on its own, of course, but with the work of many community partners to develop housing, small business, great schools and safe streets, and with the tremendous will of the Mountain View residents to embrace their diversity, celebrate their cultures and welcome the creative spirit of all people.

Look at the success of the MTS Gallery and artist work space in the old Mobile Trailer Supply building. Artists create and show their work there. Arts organizations are housed there. Events happen there. More importantly, the broader Anchorage community comes to Mountain View to see art, to experience art, to buy art. Yes, to Mountain View, a place that, until recently, people were afraid to visit.

The development of an arts and culture center in Mountain View has the enthusiastic backing of the neighborhood, business and government leadership, and the philanthropic community. The center, planned over the last four years by an energized group of community members, will include light industrial space, artist studios, a writing center, gallery, performance spaces, a cafe, outdoor activity areas and offices. The project cost is $13M with $5.25M committed to date by Rasmuson Foundation, Anchorage Community Land Trust and private contributors.

So why build an arts center in Mountain View? Mountain View has more infrastructure and innate culture to contribute towards the development of a vital arts center than probably any other neighborhood in Anchorage. A community of artists is never held back by the labels or boundaries of place. Yes, Mountain View will be the better for it, but so will Anchorage; so will the entire state.

Photo: Dancers wait to take the stage during the Mountain View Street Fair held in August.