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Performance spaces are the heart of the arts community

Humans recognize the essential role of culture in our lives.

The arts help us to better understand ourselves, our past, make sense of the present, and reimagine a more just and sustainable future. They invite us to look at our fellow human beings with generosity and curiosity, work to promote healthy vibrant societies, to ameliorate human suffering, and to promote a more thoughtful, compassionate, and empathic world order.

For years there was a fear that technology would supplant live performing arts. The pandemic has proven conclusively that this will never be so. We’ve found that the need to gather is stronger than ever.

For many of us in the arts community, our role involves creating opportunities for shared joy and self-expression. Over the summer, as the pandemic seemed to abate and the world began to reopen, organizational psychologist Adam Grant wrote in the New York Times, “Most people view emotions as existing primarily or even exclusively in their heads. Happiness is considered a state of mind; melancholy is a potential warning sign of mental illness. But the reality is that emotions are inherently social: They’re woven through our interactions.” In other words, we all need each other to experience emotions.

Dr. Grant also said, “Research has found that people laugh five times as often when they’re with others as when they’re alone. Peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.” There’s something that happens when that joie de vivre spreads through a group; it’s something we’ve all been lacking since March 2020. It’s something we all need.

When we laugh or cry together our differences fade away. Our shared experience gives us not only those feelings of joy, sorrow, or compassion, but also something in common.

Clearly, the pandemic has been a colossal threat to performing arts organizations worldwide. By shutting down venues, along with performers, presenters, production crews, promotions personnel and others who work in the industry, the pandemic has severely impacted Fairbanks as well.

As big a threat as it is, an even bigger and perhaps less known one, is the diminishing available venue space in the community. The ability to gather is more than a nicety; it is an essential component to our well-being, especially during the cold and dark days of winter.

In just the past few years, we have lost The Blue Loon, Empress Theater, and several other performing arts spaces. In addition, the Salisbury Theatre, built in 1965, is in dire need of upgrades before it can continue to produce theater and films, and host community arts events.

Pioneer Park’s current 10-year plan is to take down the Civic Center (aka the Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts) and convert it to open space. The park will reorient toward the Chena River with a new structure along Peger Road, without a theater. The Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor and Bettisworth North are seeking comments. It’s important to get ideas to the planning board now. You can do so at hwww.fairbankspioneerparkplan.com/contact. You can contribute ideas and add your support to creating new places to gather and share the arts.

Losing these venues will not only have a major negative impact on arts groups and artists, it will also drastically affect community development and cultural tourism in Fairbanks. It will weaken the sharing and preserving of our culture, diminish our quality of life and our ability to attract visitors.

The pandemic has taught us that gathering is important to us all. Let’s make sure there are places here to do just that.

Anne Biberman is executive director of Fairbanks Concert Association.

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