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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Random rant-ish thing....on artist opportunities

I get notes all of the time for really great opportunities to expand my business, or even just to expand my career as an artist.

Most of these I immediately dismiss.....With a grateful thank you that someone showed a stranger some random awesome careing....and people often wonder why.

When I decided to move back to the North Slope, I made myself a promise. I promised myself that I would do what I can to be happy. It sounds like a silly thing to do, since it first has to be defined per individual person. What makes me happy? I found out through trial and error and error and error that what truly made me happy was a very short list. Laughing with friends and family. Exploring and learning Arctic things. Learning compassion for myself and those around me. Of course these pursuits often left me broke, and in this world many people assume money is the root of much ease.

Don't get me wrong, I wish very hard for money sometimes, when bills pile up and stress becomes a visible roommate in our household. I'm not immune to it's demands or critiques. But sometimes I am lucky enough to be able to choose Happiness over money ...most of the time.

So this means I miss out on a lot of opportunities. After all you can't really get paid to hang out with friends and chat, or walk around the tundra collecting sweet roots and listening to elders chat. But there are some characteristics to these offered opportunities that really interest me and seem very obvious. Of course these are only items that apply to me...but I heard some others mention them often.

Most of the time its the timing. Such a simple and often overlooked insight. Spring and fall are very critical for us that live a heavy subsistence lifestyle. The animals are moving, sometimes out of reach till the next season, sometimes it's the only time to get certain healthy and good tasting individuals. Sometimes it's the only time certain plants are ripe for the picking. But oddly enough this is also the time that the bulk of awards have their deadlines, or that require that you travel for your presentations, or they require you to show up at workshops/teleconference calls/meetings. What is also kind of funny is that most of these awards and opportunities are often centered around those that have low income or that are targeting Alaskan Natives for the ones that need it the most, but it's also the same type of person that relies on the seasons to collect food for the coming year. You may think missing a season is okay for a one time thing....but what if you apply every year?

If I read anywhere where they require me to do anything in these critical times, I immediately write off that opportunity as a 'no go'....

As an artists another thing I find as a barrier is when you are required to submit photos of your work. This is a very common and understandable requirement, especially if you are applying for any type of art based award. But it can prove to be an automatic handicap for those that live in a village. When I lived in California I paid a professional photographer to take beautiful pictures of my work. In a large and very expensive studio. With a very expensive camera, and perfect lighting. He did it for a living. But here in the village all I have is a very tiny and cheap light box set up sitting on my window sill and a mid level 'amateur' camera. I get good pictures...sometimes. But they are never as beautiful as the studio photos. It's even more discouraging to my fellow village artists that have a basic point and shoot camera and little or no camera experience. Not to mention basic computer skills to even the contrast and crop the distracting bits. If any type of opportunity requires I send photos I automatically reduce my chances by I'm very aware of how unprofessional my photos can look, next to professional portfolios. One option is to send your work to a studio in the city, but no one will guarantee that it will survive the trip, and it will also take them off the market for weeks, sometimes months. And of course most of the time I cannot afford to have them take photos.....

Another thought I had is the application itself, Sometimes there are pages and pages of writing required. I must create beautiful prose to explain how awesome I am and how awesome my work is and how awesome I will be. In our culture one is raised form birth to never speak of such things, your actions speak louder than your words. It's immediately frowned upon if you do talk about how great you are and you would find yourself with very little friends if you did so. So when forced to go against cultural grain and write pages of the uncomfortable stuff....well it's ...uncomfortable. And this shows I think. It's much easier to do this in person...without an audience...perhaps with differently phrased types of questions. If I was required to tell someone in person about my work I think I would be much more comfortable. Another aspect concerning my fellow artists is the fact that only about 50% graduate with high school degrees, and so they have very limited writing skills, which can make it a daunting task indeed. My husband applied to a business seed money grant and had to take a course just to learn how to create a business plan. It took months of preparation. But what hope is there for others who did not that opportunity?

When I point these things out to people half the time I get replies like.. 'but if you really needed it'....or 'can't you try'....or 'this is how the world works and you must adapt'...type of thing. And I agrees sometimes. But for now my priorities are different. Maybe next year or next month or even tomorrow my mentality would change. Both me and my husband have applied to numerous awards and opportunities specifically targeting our types of businesses, and we have been rejected....why? I have no idea. Neither one of us has been told. Who exactly are they targeting? Must not be us..... And yes it makes me a bit bitter at times. For a minute or two. Why wouldn't it?

Add to that that in a way I kind of wish that the world would find itself adapting to our life and not the other way around. I kind of wish others saw it was as special and as different and wonderful as I do, and that it would be taken in serious consideration...not just in words....but in actual actions and changes in thought....


  1. I enjoy your insight about the world that you live in. I am heading to Fort Yukon to be a school counselor for the district and came across your blog while doing research on the area (which there is very little about... sad to say). I have gained a lot of insight from you about the sharp contrast between the western world and the native cultures of Alaska. I would love to continue a conversation sometime about what you think would be good for a school counselor in the North to know and do, to be an asset to the community rather than a detriment.

  2. Hello Jocelyn! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! We can chat email is