After a successful inaugural run in 2019, the Alaska World Arts Festival is back and starts Friday, running through Sept. 24.
In the new normal of the COVID-19 pandemic, it won’t include in-person, large-audience events and instead will be mostly virtual.
For director and producer Sally Oberstein, having musicians, dancers, poets, storytellers and comedians not be able to visit Homer physically turned out to have an upside. Alaska World Arts expanded its repertoire to include performers from not just the Lower 48, but New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.
“We were able to add international presenters because we didn’t have to add the cost and logistics of getting them here,” Oberstein said.
Some events are free, but most can be enjoyed at $10 each or included with a $100 festival pass. Scholarships also are available, an option Oberstein said was recently awarded to a rural Alaska school in Akiak.
For more information, the current schedule and to register, visit www.alaskaworldarts.org.
The festival does include a few local events in small venues and with COVID-safe precautions. The opening gala will be at 4 p.m. this Friday at the Homer Council on the Arts and features a reception for the organization’s new exhibit, “Halibut Cove Art Clan, Past and Present,” with work by cove artists Marian Beck, Annette Bellamy, Jay Greene, Toni Maury and others. The gallery is open with limited capacity and masks will be required.
Outdoors at the arts council, Rosy Kauffman and Daniel Christ of the Homer Youth String Orchestra are set to perform. Speakers include Oberstein, author and literary program director Nancy Lord, Homer Mayor Ken Castner, HCOA director Scott Bartlett and Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center Executive Director Brad Anderson. Masks and social distancing are recommended for outdoors.
Local art galleries from the Homer Spit to Old Town will also be open with exhibits. The Homer Youth String Orchestra Club performers and the Bayside Buskers will play music for “Live-at-Lunch” from noon-1 p.m. Sept. 20 at Land’s End Resort,
Most of the events will be held virtually, but almost all will have a live component as well. Music includes the Pipeline Vocal Project from Anchorage, doing an a capella workshop at 6:30 p.m. Friday followed by a concert at 7:30 p.m. That combination of workshops and performances also can be experienced for stand-up comedy — with an international showcase of comedians — acting, writing and storytelling on various dates. There’s also a travel writing workshop with Stephanie Elizondo Griest, David Farley and Faith Adiele.
Oberstein said the writing component helps fill the void left this year by the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference, which providentially announced a hiatus in 2020 before the pandemic.
A standout storytelling event, “Global Acts of Kindness,” will be hosted at 7 p.m. Saturday by Shirley Mae Singer Staten and includes Elizondo Griest, Peter Aguero, host of the National Public Radio show the Moth, and Bryan Carman, Kelsey Haas, Roger Lusby, Brenda Dolma, and Oberstein.
Other globe-trotting events are “Dance Around the World,” held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 16, and “Our Fascinating World,” held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14. Dance Around the World features modern and traditional performances from Alaska, Pacific Island nations, Burundi, Kenya, Cambodia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Spain, Nepal, Ireland and Kyrgyzstan. In Our Fascinating World, people from seven continents share what makes their part of the world special.
A fun event is “Sculpting Imaginations: A Virtual Grand Kinetic Spectacle” at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Kinetic sculptors Travis Bullock and Constance Titterton show and talk about some of their weird and wonderful creations.
Music can be heard from near and far, with “Icy Grooves” by jazz musicians Rick Zelinsky and YNGVIL of Anchorage, performing at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18, and Jeffrey Lee Mills, performing live from Berlin at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 19. YNGVIL also has helped with music production — a challenge in a virtual production, Oberstein said. Most of the virtual events will be held using the Zoom platform, which allows for live broadcast as well as audience participation.
“To get the sound to work, just to get the vibe is rough,” she said. “… People just want to be there with it and move around.”
YNGVIL worked with Oberstein to make that happen.
“She figure it out,” Oberstein said. “… She’s the one that — thank goodness — was ahead of us.”
Because of technical limitations, many of the performances will be prerecorded, such as the “Dance Around the World.” However, all will have a live component, with a host bridging the sets and talking about the work. Some workshops will allow question-and-answer sessions.
That’s one deviation from the usual live festival production: people won’t just be able to drop in at the last minute. Because Zoom events with public access codes can be crashed, with hackers sometimes making inappropriate videos, the Alaska World Arts Festival events all require registration.
“This has been the biggest challenge,” Oberstein said. “Every single person must register. … That protects us from any unwanted crashing.”
Like many arts presenters forced to adapt during the pandemic, Oberstein said she’s found virtual production offers a new dimension.
“Going virtual, it’s like whatever strings were tying us down got lifted,” she said. “Now I’m thinking, ‘Of course we’re doing a live festival next year, but we’ll probably have a piece of it virtual.’”
For Oberstein, in 2021 she said she thinks the Alaska World Arts Festival will continue to attract world-class talent. Oberstein also helped organize musical acts for Salmonfest. That experience taught her about the special draw Alaska has for performers.
“Once they’ve come to it, they want to come back,” she said. “Every one of them who is part of this year’s festival and last year’s festival wants to come back to Homer as soon as they can — as they put it, as soon as we can have them.”