Artists In Alaska: Amy Meissner Reports on Making Art in Alaska

Alaska is known for being one of the most remote places to live. If you’re an artist, that is a trait that can be positive or negative depending on how you look at it. It’s also one of the most diverse states in the country. A recent article touted public schools in the Anchorage district as leading the nation in diversity, with students speaking 99 different languages other than English. Following a partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation, Creative Capital brought artists in the state its core of professional development courses. Rasmuson invests in projects that provide broad benefits to Alaskans, primarily through grants to nonprofits, tribes and cities.

Interested in learning more about what it’s like to be an artist in Alaska, we reached out to a few of the people who took Creative Capital professional development workshops through Rasmuson. Our first interview is with Amy Meissner, an artist who has been living and working in Anchorage for the past 17 years!

 Alex Teplitzky: I’ve never been to Alaska, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an artist there! What about working in Alaska do you find challenging or rewarding?

Amy Meissner: It’s no secret Alaska is remote, and many of us here are far from family, support systems and infrastructure others elsewhere in the world take for granted. While this atmosphere creates self-sufficiency and an impetus to surround ourselves with those we can rely on, it’s challenging to reach art markets and audiences “Outside” (the Alaskan nickname for everywhere other than Alaska). We literally aren’t in the same room as everyone else, talking about the same things and bumping into the right people.

Social media helps a lot. It also helps that we have a world-class museum in Anchorage with a Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and connections to other circumpolar institutions, and we all benefit from the incredible pool of Alaska Native talent. It also helps that people want to journey to us.

“Reliquary #3: Scroll” by Amy Meissner (3” x 325” installation dimensions variable). Vintage domestic linens & drapery, unfinished quilts & embroideries, silk organza, found objects. Machine pieced, hand embroidered, 2015. Photo: Brian Adams.

And after 17 years here, I’m in no rush to leave. Alaska is home to an incredible community of artists, writers and performers who freely share knowledge, resources and support. Maybe it’s the landscape, at times inhospitable; maybe it’s a small community mentality; or maybe it’s because most people up here know that to safely ford a river, you find the widest point, orient yourselves towards the current and link arms.

Alex: It sounds wonderful! So, you took Creative Capital’s core professional development courses through our partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation. What did you learn in the professional development course, and how will you use that in your practice?

Amy: My studio is at home, and despite my organizational skills I’m often overwhelmed, trying to balance family, home and creative practice. The initial take away for me after the first day-long workshop with Creative Capital in the offices of Rasmuson was to develop confidence around my assets and start investigating ways of “doing less with more.”

Initially this meant considering my materials and human resources, but I’m also trying to apply that concept elsewhere. The first thing I implemented was to designate a day for administrative tasks rather than constantly shuffle paperwork and correspondence every time I had a spare moment. I’ve also been experimenting with alternative income streams and reorganizing my administrative work space.

More importantly, I took the opportunity to dive deeper into Creative Capital’s resources and complete a 4-part webinar series with Sharon Louden: “How to Approach & Engage with the Gatekeepers of the Art World.” This was the game changer. With clarity and direction, I updated my website and CV, began corresponding differently, cultivated more cultural reciprocity and felt more confident re-instigating professional conversations. The course provided a template for not just communicating with gatekeepers, but with everyone in my life. I appreciated her experience and no BS approach to sustaining a creative life.

I’m still working my way through the 70+ articles and resources Sharon provided, and one of the links has been really important for me: “The Professional Practice Lecture Series” she and Matthew Deleget facilitate through the New York Academy of Art. Those lectures have become the soundtrack for my work day as I listen my way through 7 years of facilitated conversations with art professionals. I’ve never been to New York, but I love having an online conduit for further awareness and understanding of the intricacies of the art world, whether or not they directly apply to me. Here in my basement studio, 4,366 miles away, I’m able to receive an incredible education. Sharon is traveling to Alaska in the spring of 2018 and I hope to be able to thank her in person.

Amy and her son, age 11, kayaking in Prince William Sound, Alaska. “The ability to maintain an outdoor lifestyle is a major reason for staying in Alaska,” says Amy, “despite the distance from family in the Lower 48.”

Alex: I heard you are working on a solo exhibition debuting at the Anchorage Museum of Art in 2018. Tell us about that.

Amy: Also in the spring of 2018, my solo exhibition, Inheritance: makers. memory. myth., is debuting at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. I work with abandoned domestic textiles and recently spent a year crowdsourcing vintage linens and their accompanying narratives. Women from all over the world generously sent boxes of mystery to me in Alaska, with the understanding that I become the final inheritor. A gesture that began with a stranger asking if she could send me a box of doilies and pointy cotton bras turned into the Inheritance Project: 65 contributors, 20 presumed countries of origin and over 300 rescued, abandoned or gifted pieces of domestic needlework. I catalogued all of the items on my blog, sharing any information I was given. Most of the makers are unknown, which I find humbling and emotionally resonant.

This body of work considers all of this “inherited” collection, a horde really, and with this raw material seeks to create a mythology, a new history, for the makers. I work 2- and 3-dimensionally, often referencing the quilt form and exploring the literal, physical and emotional work of women. Domestic textiles—doilies, quilts, needlework—are warm, safe and protective. My work considers fragility, memory and loss, a coupling of the beautiful and terrible, a striving toward emotional truth. This is my first museum exhibition.

It will travel to the State Museum in Juneau November 2018, and I’m in conversation with venues in the Lower 48 for the Spring of 2019. I’m grateful to the Rasmuson Foundation and the Sustainable Arts Foundation for supporting me in this endeavor.

Click here to learn more about Creative Capital’s upcoming online courses for professional development for artists. Find out more about Amy, her textile work and read blog posts about her life and work in Alaska, visit her website. To read more about Rasmuson Foundation, click here.

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