By Mike Dunham
An ad on the radio says something to the effect of: Alaska has become the laughing stock of the nation due to our politicians. Alaska Quarterly Review can restore that reputation by showing everyone how sophisticated we really are.
There's a new edition of the award-winning, nationally-honored literary journal now on the stands, hence the ad. But the bigger point should be noted. I've written about this before and don't mind thumping the drum again. If we want the rest of the country to take us seriously, we need to get serious about culture.
America sees Alaska as a bunch of bumpkins. Look a the recent "Simpsons" movie. Look at "Men in Trees."
They don't see the Sitka Summer Music Festival, the Valdez Theatre Conference, the Anchorage Museum. They don't know that we have a best-selling author in Dana Stabenow or that national labels have just released two new CDs by Fairbanks composer John Luther Adams or that Anchorage artists like Rebecca Lyons and Sonya Kelliher-Combs are getting appreciative attention all over the country.
Public funding of the arts is a controversial subject and, I'll be the first to admit, often wrong-headed in its execution. But if it could be intelligently applied to promoting the idea that, besides wolves and mountains, the 49th State also possesses thoughtful elegance in abundance, it would go far to swaying part of the national perception about Alaska in our favor.
Cleveland, for instance, is a rustbowl dump. But the first two things people think of is its football team and its orchestra. The Browns don't always have a good year, but no one has ever considered the Cleveland Orchestra anything less than stellar.
The image of uninformed backwoodsmen and -women will be hard to shake. Yet, one wonders: If the Anchorage Symphony were to tour San Francisco, New York, Paris, playing music by contemporary Alaskan composers, what effect would that have on altering the impression among a key demographic?
Probably won't happen. But everyone who reads this can do a little something on their own: Support your local arts, go to plays, concerts, buy books by local authors, art objects from local craftsfolk. Show some taste. Don't leave it all on Alaska Quarterly Review.
If you have ideas on how the state can burnish it's image through the arts, or if you think I'm an idiot for suggesting such, pile on here.