New Park Gives Soldotna A Face Lift

Oct 28, 2015

Soldotna is getting a new look thanks to an arts initiative. That's according to KDLL Public Radio Reporter Jenny Neyman: 

Community beautification could mean a lot of things — picking up trash, planting flowers, adding a fresh coat of paint here or there. In Soldotna, a collaborative effort is taking a more creative approach to beautification, using public art as a way to both spruce up town and boost the local economy. 

“The idea is a long-term approach to community beautification and public art where all the different parts fit together as a whole and at the same time don’t cost a lot of money to implement or maintain in the long term,” said Kashi.

 That’s Joe Kashi, president of the nonprofit ARTSpace organization. 

“The community has to look nice and be attractive to people to invite better-paid people to come work here. So it’s jut one part of a larger economic development aspect for the community. But at the same time, in and of itself, the idea of community beautification/public art makes it a nicer place for everybody,” said Kashi.

 ARTSpace is collaborating with the Rotary Club of Soldotna, the city of Soldotna, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to launch a multifaceted public art initiative. The latest accomplishment is the ribbon-cutting on Sunday for a new art display installation at Soldotna Creek Park. The art park consists of two wood-framed, glassed-in panels on which photo prints, paintings, drawings and other two-dimensional artwork can be exhibited outdoors in the middle of Soldotna’s busiest park, yet be protected from the weather. That proved important Sunday, as Soldotna’s newly elected Mayor Pete Sprague pointed out, with the ribbon-cutting taking place between rain showers. 

“I checked the Doppler right before I came over and it’s supposed to start raining at one o’clock. So, we’ve got a window there,” said Sprague.

 ArtSpace and its collaborators have a whole slate of projects to accomplish in the community. Some are already complete, including an Emerging Artists Festival, a photography competition, and displaying reproductions of murals submitted to Rotary’s Paint the Kenai project around town. Others are in the works. Among them, an installation of art display “drawers” will open at the Soldotna Public Library in December. A photo gear and art supply swap is being planned, and an art reproduction and photo printing workspace for use by the public is coming to the library. Other projects will be ongoing, such as art shows and sales, contests, various workshops and periodic calls for art submissions. They’re all interconnected — artists can use the equipment at the library to make prints to submit to the various art shows. Some of the first display in the Art Park are winners of the first biennial juriedphotography contest, and so on. Self-sustainability is another of the goals, so that the projects feed off of and into each other. 

“In tight economic times, we need to find a way in which we can do these sorts of things in high-traffic, high-volume, highly leveraged ways that don’t cost a lot of money, that have very minimal long-term economic costs,” said Kashi.

 Liam Floyd was one of the winners of ARTSpace’s first photo contest and has one of his shots on display in the park. He’s a senior in high school and just took up photography about 10 months ago. Having exposure has been a huge boost. 

“Because it’s getting my name out there and people are getting to see my stuff, so I’m excited. It’s here and people come by. And in the summer, hopefully it’s going to draw a lot more attention,” said Floyd.

 And hopefully the benefits won’t just be for the artists, but for everyone in town. 

“We’ve got a beautiful park and a beautiful location and I think that the arts are really a key component of quality of life. And I think that this art park is really another component to uplift the quality of life here in Soldotna, to improve what we have and, really, to build on for the future,” said Sprague.

 For more information about ARTSpace, visit its website, artspacealaska.org.