Art Beat: Alternative music fans party at Sitka's Homeskillet festival

Mike Dunham
The Music Machine
Photo courtesy Janet Carr-Campbell.
An image from the "Toth" series by Donald Ricker
Courtesy of Donald Ricker
Emily Johnson debuted her performance piece "The Thank-You Bar" at Out North in 2009.
Photo courtesy Emily Johnson
Kingdom Crumbs at Homeskillet Fest in Sitka
Photo by Inua Blevins
Iska Dhaff at Homeskillet Fest in Sitka
Photo by Inua Blevins

The eighth annual Homeskillet Music Festival took place in Sitka July 26-27. Organized by local musician Silver Jackson -- the stage name of the much-noted visual artist known as Nicholas Galanin -- the festival focuses on alternative and cutting edge music from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Hip-hopper Rockwell Powers, formerly of Anchorage, attended the event and said indie, hip-hop, electro-(add your own genre) and folk were featured. "Polished and professional showmanship brought down the house at the end of both evenings of music," Powers said in detailed notes with a link to photos now posted at

Music Machine revs up again

The first kids who performed in a Music Machine production are likely in their 40s now and a few should be looking at 50. The music and dance revue with lively choreography and costumes has been an annual event in Anchorage for 32 years now and the latest version will take to the Wendy Williamson stage this week. Sixty-five young people, age 6-18, directed by Janet Carr-Campbell, will perform pop, Broadway and patriotic numbers along with a little hip-hop. The popular show is an excellent choice for those with their own youngsters whom they want to introduce to the energy of live performance. Tickets are $7-$15 at and showtimes will be 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10.

Out North's future looks grim

The news last week that Out North would suspend operations and dismiss its staff was not entirely unexpected. The company, founded in the late 1980s, expanded from a theater presenter to include other art disciplines, but focused on the fringes of the art world. It was a social mission, but perhaps not a good business plan. The company picked up many major awards over the years enabling it to stretch from grant to grant, but never quite metastasizing into an operation that could cover future expenses with any great degree of confidence.

Board president Chrissy Bell told me that the company had always struggled with sustainability. She said the board hoped to look over the situation and come up with a way to continue. But she didn't have the tone of certainty.

The company hosted a number of quality shows that still stick in my head, including this year's "A Gulag Mouse," "The Man in the Attic," "Dog Meets God," the musical version of "Spring's Awakening," Chicago's Xsite Dance Company. It offered local writers and performance artists a public podium with memorable pieces like Jill Bess' "Mommy Dance" from the "Under 30" series of short pieces (usually monologues), Ben Brown in "The SantaLand Diaries," plays by Jack Dalton, early work by Emily Johnson, now getting notice in New York.

It also brought up a lot of solo acts, spoken word pieces that promised to be interesting, even amusing, but were too often preachy and boring, hobbled with agendas that were political rather than artistic. Finding an audience for such entertainment was difficult and, given the limited space, ticket sales were unlikely to cover costs even if the house was full.

The auditorium was an intimate space and imaginative designers managed to do astounding things. But it offered the least comfortable seating in town, with metal chairs set on risers. Parking was severely limited. Going to an Out North show, no matter how good, always took a heightened level of commitment.

Local performers and playwrights will, I hope, find other venues. Plays in bars used to be commonplace in Anchorage and something like that could happen again. But what will become of the building at Primrose and DeBarr if Out North shutters forever?

The concrete structure has been a telephone utility structure, a library, a community "cultural center." Nothing seemed to quite work. Whether the lower level can function as a practical theater space is doubtful. But something geared to the immediate neighborhood from South Mountain View through Airport Heights might draw numbers. The upper space most recently used as a gallery could work for dances -- folk, fiddle, Native -- assuming transportation could be addressed and not too many people showed up. A working food preparation area might help, too.

Today that all sounds like pie in the sky. The sad fact may be that the former Grandview Gardens Cultural Center will be demolished and the lot will be deemed too small for any future public use structure.

Artists look to Internet for money

Online crowd-sourced fundraising has become the new Maecenas for artists. As the numbers of these efforts grow to tsunami volume, we're less inclined to take note of them. But three have caught our eye this month.

Local violinist Christine Li is organizing an ambitious chamber music series with workshops, scheduled to take place Aug. 12-17. Guest artists include the Scott Chamber Players from Indianapolis. I'll have the list of public performances here next Sunday, but those wanting to find out more about workshops and lessons should go to Those with spare change to help defray expenses should go here.

Alaska Dance Theatre director Gillmer Duran has had his new piece "Flat Out-DARK" selected for the upcoming Boston Contemporary Dance Festival and he's hoping to raise money to fly himself and dancers to the Aug. 17 event. Here's the site.

Artist Donald Ricker is going through USA Projects to produce a book, "Praising Toth: Patron of Artists and Scribes." It's based on work seen last year in an exhibit at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art. Find more information here.

Music on tap

The impressive rock/blues/jazz violinist Geoffrey Castle will return to Blues Central (825 W. Northern Lights Blvd.) for four shows this week. Tickets are $20 and available in advance by calling 272-1341. Shows will take place starting at 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday with an all-ages family show 3-6 p.m. Sunday.