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Fairbanks Concert Association brings world-class artists to small Interior Alaska communities

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Posted: Sunday, November 6, 2011 9:21 am | Updated: 1:31 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks Concert Association is known for the eclectic and varied music and performance offerings it brings annually to Fairbanks. But things have been spreading out from the Chena River the past couple of years.

The communities of Delta Junction and Healy have been the benefactors of “run outs” — one-night, one-event evenings, where groups scheduled to play in Fairbanks venture to rural communities.

Not every act from FCA’s dozen or so performance groups goes on the road, but the three or four that do end up making a big impact on the communities in which they perform.

“We’re sort of block-booking ourselves,” said Anne Biberman, executive director of the Fairbanks Concert Association. “We get more out of it and it’s a great way to serve the

It’s part of FCA’s goal to provide more outreach.

In recent years they’ve also brought artists into such places as the Denali Center, Fairbanks Correctional Center and military facilities.

The outreach has provided opportunities for education, both in and outside the classroom.

Delta beginnings

In 2008, Lynda Sather, community and public relations manager for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., added a special request to the company’s annual FCA donation: Try to expand outreach to communities along the pipeline corridor.

For the Interior, that meant the community of Delta Junction, home to Alyeska’s Delta Response Base.

“Delta has always been an important part of our Alyeska family, so I asked (the Fairbanks Concert Association) to see what they could do for an outreach event in Delta,” Sather said.

So FCA approached Joyce McCombs, director of the Delta Community Library, to serve as a cultural touchpoint in Delta Junction.

McCombs said the Delta Library Board had done arts events in the past — including author readings — but it was music the people of Delta Junction really wanted.

FCA was able to schedule a show with Calo Flamenco — a flamenco group based out of Tempe, Ariz. — in October 2008 at the Delta Junction High School. Biberman said it was a test case to see if the outreach could work.

FCA and the library board did their best to transform the gymnasium into concert space, placing a large piece of plywood on the floor so the audience would get the most out of the high energy, fast-paced flamenco dancing.

Getting the gym prepped was just one concern.

McCombs wasn’t sure if anyone would even show up.

“We just figured it out as we went along,” she said.

“We were scared, we didn’t know who would have it.”

Apparently the community would have it. They filled the bleachers and then some.

“People were asking, ‘When’s the next one?’” McCombs said.

The concerts are more than just a show — they’re community events. They include silent auctions, raffle drawings and reminders — McCombs announced at the Te Vaka concert on Oct. 24 that exactly 999 books are overdue at the library.

People still show up.

At the Te Vaka show, the bleachers were packed with about 200 people. Those who couldn’t get a seat stood near the entryway.

There are no tickets sold for the show, and Delta only asks for an “exit-mission” instead of admission.

“If you liked the show, add to the pot,” McCombs explained.

Healy shows start

Kris Capps was looking to have more arts in the Denali Borough. The Denali Arts and Humanities Alliance had been set up with the explicit mission of bringing more arts to the Denali Borough School District. The Denali arts alliance works with the Fairbanks Arts Association to partner for education performances, but even getting to those can be a challenge.

Not only are Denali Borough schools offered seats last (the first ones go to the Fairbanks North Star Borough schools) but renting a bus costs $800 a day, on top of students missing what can be an entire day of school.

Biberman and Capps met through FACE, the Fairbanks Arts Cultural Education committee.

Biberman said that Capps only asked that “you keep (Healy) in mind” for possible run-out shows.

Biberman said that Fairbanks is so flush with arts events that it doesn’t make sense to keep adding more and more within the city limits. With the Delta shows so successful, Biberman figured why not bring artists to Healy?

“The key is having a local coordinator,” Biberman said.

“And here's Kris Capps in Healy.”

The first Healy show was October 2009 with Cantus, an a cappella ensemble. At first, Capps had to “sell” the FCA shows to community members.

“I had to look ‘em in the eye and tell them how great it was going to be,” Capps said.

But when almost all of the 200 seats in the Tri-Valley School multi-purpose room filled up, community members in Healy just started asking the same thing people in Delta had asked: “What’s next?”

The shows at the school are all donation-based and similar to Delta in that they also provide a community connection. At the Te Vaka show there was a bake sale fundraiser to raise money for Kids in Motion dancers traveling to Los Angeles for a Dance Excellence competition in April.

Healy has added another, more intimate element to its outreach repertoire. Occasionally musicians will play a small show at 229 Parks Restaurant. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks are served, but the performance is the focus. Capps describe the shows, which are limited to 70 people.

“It’s a different kind of venue, mainly for adults,” she said. “I feel like (the Healy shows) are growing in a way that we compliment each other.”

Not so different

Despite humble, plywood beginnings, the current shows are full light and sound operations thanks to Josh Bennett of Sound Reinforcement Specialists.

Bennett has even started training some Healy teenagers to help set up and run the sound systems.

Some things at the shows are the same, while others are different. At both shows children run about, admiring sound boards or begging their parents for cookies.

Adults shake hands, hug and reconnect with friends. In Delta, families sit on gym bleachers while in Healy families pile into the multipurpose room’s auditorium style seating, complete with cushioned chairs.

Both McCombs and Capps said they’d like to have a bigger, more eventspecific concert space in the future, but that what they have works for now.

Capps was able to secure $7,000 from state Sen. Joe Thomas and $18,000 from the Denali Borough Assembly to improve electrical outlets in the multi-purpose room.

Before the improvements they had to run extension cords out of the room and into neighboring classrooms. Despite the differences, one thing is the same: the communities’’ appreciation.

“This is awesome. It’s really incredible for such a small community to have this up here,” said Sarah Walker, mother of three and a Healy resident. “I feel so lucky. The whole community is so supportive.”

“It’s terrific for the community, you can tell by the response,” Denali Borough Mayor Dave Talerico said, gesturing out to the packed Tri-Valley School lobby following the Te Vaka concert.

“So many of us here are transplants,” said David Tomeo, a Healy-area resident who works for Alaska Geographic. “To have a cultural extravaganza like this — it’s fantastic.”

“It’s wonderful, we don’t have to drive 100 miles,” said Lucille Stock, who has lived in Delta Junction since 1982.

“It’s a lot different than what we normally have in a small town,” Carl Taylor of Delta said. “It kind of brightens the place up, gives you something live.”

Ultimately, it comes down to one important thing, Delta Junction Mayor Mary Leith explained.

“It’s something this town appreciates.”

Contact features editor Suzanna Caldwell at 459-7504.

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