FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival made magic throughout Interior Alaska this week.
World-class musicians Sweet Plantain visited Interior rural communities from Denali to Kenny Lake and shared their love of music by performing and then offering children a chance to try kid-size instruments themselves.
“Kids who won’t say two words to me were up there playing the cello, laughing with these guys, relaxed,” said Joyce McCombs, Delta Junction librarian. “They’re just magic.”
This is a first for the festival, which has been headquartered in Fairbanks for 33 years. The new outreach program has been embraced by rural communities with gusto.
Sixty people showed up in Salcha. Fifty people came to the Delta outreach. A whopping 90 people attended the outreach in Kenny Lake, and 26 folks showed up in North Pole.
Denali Borough is next, with several performances, a youth workshop and a historic 16-piece string orchestra performance inside Denali National Park.
“This is continuing our mission of providing high quality guest artists, and study/performance opportunities for our communities,” said Terese Kaptur, festival director. “We are expanding throughout Interior Alaska, to people who don’t normally have access to this on a regular basis.”
According to McCombs in Delta, that is definitely true.
“There was a steady stream of parents, some practically in tears” of gratitude after the outreach event, said McCombs, who often hosts performance outreach throughout the year with the Fairbanks Concert Association.
“One mom came up to me and she said, ‘I want you to know, we have come to every event you ever held here. I have five kids. I can’t afford to take them up to town. I just want to thank you. My kids would never be exposed to this high quality, professional musicians.’”
The outreach continues this weekend.
Sweet Plantain performs at the 49th State Brewing Company tonight. The group members’ wives, also accomplished musicians, will play at the McKinley Chalet Resort at 7:30 p.m. as part of a festival ensemble.
Then on Saturday, the group RedShift leads a 2:30 p.m. workshop for families at the Murie Science and Learning Center. Kid-size instruments will be available for hands-on experience.
Festival outreach culminates in a performance at the Denali Visitor Center on Saturday. At 7 p.m. the festival’s 16-piece string orchestra will perform, the first time an orchestra has been invited into the park.
One of the pieces they will perform is “Denali,” created by composer Stephen Lias, who visited the park last year. He is spending time this summer as the artist-in-residence at Glacier Bay, Gates of the Arctic and Wrangell-St. Elias national parks. He will compose pieces about those areas as well.
On Sunday, the orchestra and 16 teen musicians, a choir of students from the Denali Borough and Nenana School, will travel the park road by bus to Eielson Visitor Center, deep inside the park. There, they will perform one piece together, and the orchestra will play another short piece.
This orchestra-youth collaboration fulfills not only the festival’s mission but also a park program called “Arts Afire” that supports arts and young people in the park.
“Who would have thought, 11 years ago when we started the Artist In Residence program, that we would be here today,” said Denali National Park Superintendent Paul R. Anderson, who offered support for this event a year ago. He has been a longtime supporter of arts in the park and of collaboration with young people.
It is Terese Kaptur’s hope that this festival outreach will provide inspiration for many young people in Interior Alaska.
“It changes lives,” she said. “Some people say the thing that made them go into music or art was an experience they had at an early age, as a kid. These unexpected settings can be really life-changing.”
Kris Capps is a freelance writer and columnist who lives just outside Denali National Park. She is also a media relations person for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.