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Creative binding

Mike Dunham
F Magazine co-founders Gretchen Weiss and Teeka Ballas launched an independently owned, Anchorage-based, hyper-local arts, music and culture publication over a year ago.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

In May 2009 the first issue of F Magazine popped up in a handful of Anchorage locations. The small, local arts magazine was the latest in countless attempts that have been made over the years to introduce and sustain an Alaska arts journal.

Of those attempts, a miniscule number made it past their second edition.

But more than a year later, F is still around and notably growing. On Friday it will celebrate its anniversary and survival. The party at MTS Gallery in Mountain View will include live music, poetry and artwork by some of the relatively obscure artists who have been featured in its pages.

Over coffee earlier this month, Teeka Ballas, the executive content editor, talked about the idea behind the magazine and her hopes for its future.

"When I moved to Alaska, I had the same experience that many people have," she said. "I looked around and thought, there's no art here, no culture."

Ballas came from a background brimming with creativity. Her mother was an actress, her grandfather played jazz piano, her father was a booking agent for bands. She studied theater, voice, composition, worked as a singer and after innumerable relocations, wound up in Anchorage five years ago.

She studied journalism and international relations at the University of Alaska Anchorage and got her degree last year. Over the semesters her opinion of Anchorage changed.

"I found there was a lot of culture here," she said. "A whole lot of it just wasn't being recognized." She developed "a passion to create a community for all of this."

She met Gretchen Weiss -- most recently managing calendars and blogging for the Daily News' Play section -- while working at the campus newspaper. They exchanged ideas and "dreamed that one of these day's we'd have our own 'zine," Ballas said.

The two cranked out the first editions with their own money, Ballas handling the words, Weiss in charge of the layout.

F follows a two-part format. The front half of a given issue contains feature stories about artist or art events. The second half supplies a forum for essays, poetry, creative fiction and photographs.

Recent issues have included looks at local rock bands LaVoy and Last Train, interviews with street dancer Andrew Kerosky and Mountain View poet Sol Gerstenfeld, profiles of four female singer-songwriters (Liz Maly, Emily Kurn, Marian Call and Amy Lou Hettinger) with samples of their lyrics.

The pages also include occasional theater reviews and regular commentary on visual arts by Theodore Kincaid, whose approach ranges from a straight-forward look at the recent "Star Wars" exhibit at the Anchorage Museum ("a lot of let down") to bringing homeless people into galleries to get their opinion ("They loved everything they saw").

The essays and fiction pieces are always accompanied by a photo or some other visual element. Of necessity they tend to be short; F runs about 22 pages.

"But short fiction doesn't require a book," Ballas noted.

"My philosophy is that a community is defined by the arts," she said. "We're always looking for new writers, new artists, new photographers. There's such a diverse group of people who arrive in Anchorage for different reasons. We should have some cohesion -- and the arts is what binds."

But finding writers is like "pulling teeth," she added. In addition to Kincaid, the list of regular F contributors includes musician Matt Sullivan, poets Andi Powers and Jimmi Ware and author Rebecca Goodrich. No one gets paid but Ballas said she hopes that would change sometime this summer.

"One of my goals is to get my own voice out of the magazine," she said, to dedicate herself to editorial responsibilities. That will require a reservoir of dependable writers.

There's a suggested price of $2 an issue, but no way to make sure that everyone who picks up a copy pays for it. Some don't, Ballas admitted. "We live in an age where everyone wants it all for free." But some of that literary turnstyle-jumping is offset by "angels" who toss extra money into the honor box.

In the past few months F has begun to include advertising, a venture that will determine the future of the magazine. "We can't keep dong this out of pocket," Ballas said. "We've been lucky to have some fabulous people who've coached us about sales."

A glance at the ads show a number of vendors located outside Anchorage, in Homer, Seward and Hope. Though the magazine has concentrated on the Anchorage scene, Ballas is getting more and more requests for distribution south of town on the Kenai Peninsula and north in Talkeetna and Fairbanks.

Bigger distribution is only one objective.

"The big goal is to mold it into more of a multi-media product, a place where artists can sell their art on line, where people can watch performances through online video," Ballas said.

The two founders remain at the core of the magazine. It consumes a lot of time (Weiss's last day at Play is Thursday). "It almost feels like we're doing a community service," said Ballas.

But it's service worth doing, and one for which F's founders have some natural empathy.

"There is an enormous number of artists who are unrecognized, slews of musicians we didn't know existed before we started this. We're still really getting out there and introducing the public to them," Ballas said.

"There are plenty of well-known artists out there. But there are ten-fold as many unknown artists.

"I feel that we're part of that unknown artists group."

Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.


By MIKE DUNHAM
mdunham@adn.com
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