The sign welcoming people into Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio can be seen here in Soldotna, Alaska, on Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The sign welcoming people into Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio can be seen here in Soldotna, Alaska, on Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Action through art

Cook Inletkeeper to raise funds through community showcase

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of local nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper, artwork from community members will be on display at the organization’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna from now through December.

Kaitlin Vadla, who has worked for Inletkeeper for the past seven years and is currently the regional director for the central peninsula, spoke to the Clarion on Thursday about the exhibit as well as Inletkeeper’s past, present and future.

Inletkeeper was started in 1995 with the mission of “protecting the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains,” through scientific research, education and advocacy, according to its website. Vadla said Thursday that many of Inletkeepers’ founding members are still on the board and actively involved in the organization.

“People are just so passionate about doing what they can to make sure they protect this place that we love, and that feels good,” Vadla said. “We’re certainly evolving as an organization, like everyone, and I think this year has been a crazy, difficult wake-up call for so many people for so many reasons. But I think when it’s dark, the stars shine brighter. We’ve got some tremendous new volunteers this year and I think it might be because it was so hard. So there’s always silver linings.”

The art show that opened Thursday is the first to be held in Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio — which is located next to Hospice of the Central Peninsula in Soldotna — and is titled “Meditations on the Mission of Cook Inletkeeper.” The works on display include paintings and photography that feature Alaska’s natural landscape, and 25% of the proceeds from each artwork sold will go to Inletkeeper’s mission of protecting the Cook Inlet watershed.

In addition to now being an art gallery, the Community Action Studio serves as a community kitchen and Inletkeeper’s regional office. Recently, several local business owners have also set up shop inside the studio. One business owner, artist Amy Kruse, was at the studio with her kids on Thursday helping Vadla set up the gallery.

Kruse prints her artwork on clothing and sells her wares out of the Community Action Studio in their newly established “refillery” shop called The Goods, and was wearing a cloth face mask and sweatshirt each featuring her original designs. The Goods sells locally made and organic cleaning products, and customers are encouraged to bring refillable containers in order to reduce waste.

“To be able to have a local retailer where I can sell my clothes without needing my own space is great,” Kruse said. “We’re kind of just piggy-backing off of each other and supporting each other by making things more affordable and using less resources.”

While this year was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Vadla said that didn’t stop Inletkeeper from working toward its mission, and that she and others have been “busier than ever.”

“We got pretty creative early on and found a way to do a virtual Mouth to Mouth Wild Run and Ride … that was one of the first virtual races in the state,” Vadla said. “And from there the Food Hub started and right away we had doubled our orders.”

Vadla also mentioned a virtual version of Salmonfest organized by an Inletkeeper associate in Homer, and the continued success of the group’s community compost program as signs that the organization has not been slowed down by the pandemic.

“Whenever you’re fighting the good fight to make sure your community is healthy and that there’s less pollution, there’s always work to be done,” Vadla said.

Looking ahead, Vadla said that Inletkeeper plans to survey the local community sometime next year on what specific concerns they have regarding their local watershed in order to see what improvements can be made.

“Drinkable, fishable, swimmable water,” Vadla said. “Water quantity, water quality, pollution issues, access issues, everything under the sun as it relates to water. And then we’ll host a series of community conversations so that we can really better root our work in what the issues are for communities throughout the Cook Inlet watershed.”

Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio is located at 35911 Kenai Spur Highway. The art on display can be viewed online at inletkeeper.org/studio.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

Photography by Ben Boettger and Elizabeth Earl as well as a mixed media piece by Patty Youngren can be seen here inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, on Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Photography by Ben Boettger and Elizabeth Earl as well as a mixed media piece by Patty Youngren can be seen here inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, on Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

An acrylic painting by Sarah Youngren can be seen here inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

An acrylic painting by Sarah Youngren can be seen here inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The Goods Refillery can be seen inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The Goods Refillery can be seen inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Organic soaps are sold by the ounce at The Goods, located inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, as seen on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Organic soaps are sold by the ounce at The Goods, located inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, Alaska, as seen on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion
Amy Kruse, owner of Love From Alaska, shows off some of her wares inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna on Thursday.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion Amy Kruse, owner of Love From Alaska, shows off some of her wares inside Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna on Thursday.

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