Cam Choy, associate professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College, works on a salmon sculpture in collaboration with the Kenai Watershed Forum during the Kenai River Festival at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on June 8, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Cam Choy, associate professor of art at Kenai Peninsula College, works on a salmon sculpture in collaboration with the Kenai Watershed Forum during the Kenai River Festival at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on June 8, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Draft Soldotna plan brainstorms best way to bring more art to the city

Creation of a regional arts council, the incorporation of art projects into existing city grant programs and development of a way for the city to commission artwork are among the recommendations outlined in a draft comprehensive arts plan for Soldotna, which Soldotna City Council members got their first look at during a Wednesday council work session.

The first iteration of the plan, presented as the Soldotna Arts and Culture Master Plan, outlines why the City of Soldotna will support arts and culture over the next 10 years. The draft document also fleshes out the paths needed to achieve city priorities and identifies which recommendations are best achieved by noncity organizations.

The document was the subject of a Wednesday work session that included Soldotna City Council members, staff with Agnew::Beck Consulting firm and other project leads. The work session comes one year after city council members voted to advance a city arts plan. Further development of Soldotna arts and culture emerged as a priority for council members as they brainstormed ways to spend leftover COVID-19 relief funds.

The City of Soldotna last December accepted a $20,000 grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts to help pay for the plan. As part of the grant, the city contributed $20,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds as a matching contribution to the grant. City council members in February approved a contract with Agnew::Beck for the development of the plan, not to exceed $40,000.

The city earlier this year circulated an online survey seeking input on the proposed plan, which Agnew::Beck Project Manager Inger Deede and Analyst Jon Papendieck said Wednesday was completed by more than 200 people. Among respondents, nearly three-fourths said arts and culture is “very important.” Eighty percent said preserving history and cultural heritage is important to them.

Roughly half of respondents said they attend arts and culture events at least once a month, with most citing parks and open spaces, food and culinary arts, live music and community arts events as the primary way they engage with arts and culture. Identified as key barriers to arts and culture in Soldotna were lack of venues and lack of awareness or advertising.

Deede told council members during Wednesday’s work session that Agnew::Beck’s key takeaway was that, although a majority of respondents expressed interest in engaging with arts and culture in the city, barriers exist that stand in the way of maximizing that engagement.

“From the survey, we really feel like we saw that we have a community with a strong love of arts and culture and a desire to engage and participate in arts and culture activities,” Deede said.

Beyond identifying the ways arts and culture are already a part of the city, the Soldotna Arts and Culture Master Plan also outlines 19 recommendations for the city, including steps the City of Soldotna can take and ways the city can work with other community groups to advance shared arts priorities.

The plan explains the recommendation, explains what strategies can be used to achieve the recommendation, the rationale for including the recommendation, how it ties into the city’s arts and culture goals, potential partners the city could work with, and the time frame for achieving the recommended action.

For example, the plan recommends that the city create a public art fund and ways for the city to “support the creation of public art and programming.” To do that, the city could create a mini grant program specific to arts and culture programs or develop a way to formally issue a call for public art submissions.

The recommendation would align with the “connect” and “integrate” focus areas described by the plan, and offer an integrated method to support the creation of public art.

Other recommendations identified by the plan are incorporating art into public infrastructure planning, supporting year-round arts programming and exploring the adaptive use of vacant spaces. Separate ideas for an arts and culture council and for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce are also identified.

Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker expressed support for the city working with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe to incorporate traditional Dena’ina place names to sites throughout Soldotna, which is one recommendation identified in the plan. Parker said the general push behind arts and culture development needs to be cohesive.

“I see implementation (as) kind of dysfunctional if we’ve got the Parks and Recreation Board and the Library Board and we don’t have a central organization that is taking the lead on helping implement this plan,” Parker said.

Council member Jordan Chilson agreed, saying that while he likes the idea of a regional arts cohort working together, a Soldotna-specific group tasked with bringing more art into the city is a key component of the plan. He proposed creating a temporary city arts commission that would meet regularly and narrowly focus on implementing arts strategies while a regional cohort is formed.

“Something like an arts commission — that would be their focus: actively seeking more art in the community and to help guide the creation of that (regional arts) council,” Chilson said.

Moving forward, project leads told city council members that they hope to incorporate additional feedback they receive on the draft arts and culture plan into the final iteration of the document. The final document is subject to approval by city council members.

More information about Soldotna’s Arts and Culture Master Plan can be found on a city website dedicated to the initiative at inspiresoldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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