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A 'maker place': On Ship Creek, artist co-op Anchorage Community Works marks first year

Mike Dunham
Musician Matt Hopper performs at Anchorage Community Works on Friday, July 18, 2014.
Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News
Anchorage Community Works supporters mingle during the silent auction portion of the evening on Friday, August 8, 2014. The event was a celebration of the group’s first year in existence.
Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News
Artist Ted Kincaid works on a painting of judge James Wickersham that is being auctioned off as he completes it, with the bids increasing as more and more of the painting is completed, at the Anchorage Community Works on Friday, August 8, 2014.
Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News
Artist Ted Kincaid works on a painting of judge James Wickersham that is being auctioned off as he completes it, with the bids increasing as more and more of the painting is completed, at the Anchorage Community Works on Friday, August 8, 2014.
Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News
Musician Chris Watkins performs at Anchorage Community Works on Friday, July 18, 2014.
Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News

The gray front of the metal two-story warehouse-type building on Ship Creek looks plain enough, surrounded by gravel parking areas with a cluster of utility boxes lining the wall next to the main entrance.

But you never know what you’ll find behind the door.

In the past few weeks, Anchorage Community Works has hosted the thrash metal band Seracs, an acoustic show by the much-recorded Matt Hopper and all-ages concerts by local groups including Mythological Horses, Thunderfish and Dr. Zen. They’ve held swap meets, where musicians could buy and sell surplus gear. And, on any given day, one may encounter artists working on paintings, sculptures, prints, photography -- or juggling.

There’s a picnic area in back, abutting the Ship Creek bike path, and a kitchen/lunchroom inside. Those who prefer to have someone else do the cooking can head to the Kendo Cuisine food trailer parked on the east side of the building. It attracts workers from throughout the Ship Creek industrial area, said Brooklyn Baggett, ACW’s Board President.

During a tour of the 5,000-square-foot facility on a quiet afternoon last month, Baggett described the mission of ACW as “a nonprofit shared workspace for artists and an avenue for art and music shows.”

She said the group acquired the nonprofit permit of The Trailer Center, the alternative art venue that operated the now-defunct Mountain View Trailer Supply art center. They formed a new board of directors and set up shop on Ship Creek.

Inside the metal walls, old bicycles decorate the high places and surplus couches sit against the wall. Drawings, paintings and sculptures, mostly by member artists, occupy open spaces. A spinet piano stands next to the small stage used for concerts. The performance space has a capacity of between 100-150, depending on how the performance is configured. Between 100 and 120 “feels comfortable,” Baggett said.

ACW houses space for a sound booth, desks for graphic designers and places where the creatively inclined can tool leather or craft jewelry. It also has equipment for letterpress, etching press work and screen printing.

There are now a half-dozen letterpresses, said ACW member Keren Lowell. “And Craig (Updegrove) is adding to the font library as we speak.”

Updegrove, one of ACW’s board members, is probably best known as the designer of the posters for events sponsored by Moose’s Tooth Pizza and Bear Tooth Theatrepub. “But he is also an independent and brilliant graphic designer,” Lowell said.

The rented building sits on land owned by the Alaska Railroad, Baggett said. “The railroad treats us well,” she said. “I think they’re generally excited to have this type of business down here.”

She estimated that the building hosts four to six musical events each month, drawing both all-ages and 21-plus crowds.

Artists pay a $100-per-month individual membership fee. For that they receive a locker and access to the workspace from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. That’s assuming there’s no special event going on.

On Aug. 8, there was a lot going on. It was the first anniversary celebration for the facility, an event dubbed “Emergence” to reflect “the fantastic emerging artists incubating within our walls,” read the invitation.

Supporters dressed in styles that reflected a swanky party. They snacked on food from Spenard Roadhouse, bid on art by people associated with the group and listened to music that ran the gamut from classical to the gypsy jazz of Hot Club of Nunaka.

“I’ve been here couple of times before and it’s a cool place to be,” said contemporary folk singer Michael Howard during his set. “A lot of cool people doing a lot of cool stuff here in Anchorage.”

One of the artworks, a set of ancient bamboo ski poles with caribou hooves, was by Sheila Wyne, who described herself as part of the “kitchen cabinet” for the facility. “It’s impressive that they’ve made it a year,” she said, crediting the survival to the business model that the new board pursued. “It’s a paradigm shift from The Trail Center,” she said.

As the music played, artist Ted Kincaid worked on a portrait of Judge James Wickersham in his law library. “I’ve become interested in Alaska history,” he said.

Kincaid had perhaps the largest piece in the auction, a big abstract canvas. Also in the building is a similar painting done during a fundraiser held during Fur Rendezvous. “We loved it too much to sell it,” Baggett said. Other items included a large sculpture by Drew Michael, photo books by Brian Adams and Clark James Mishler and a six-pack of Skilak Scottish Ale from the Kenai River Brewing Company; the last-named accompanied an illustration by Lucas Elliot showing Macbeth’s meeting with the witches.

Kincaid said he had agreed to join ACW because it provided him with “a sense of community.”

“Frankly, after I graduated from UAA I got into a rut. Here I’m able to see what other people have going, share ideas, bounce things off other artists.”

Fabric art by Lowell was also part of the auction.

“When ACW started up, I think I recognized the potential for that place to be more of a maker space, a little less structured and more like an active working space,” she said. She has an important solo show coming up at the Anchorage Museum in September and said she became a member, in part, “to do some sanding and grinding of wood and resin parts of pieces for the upcoming museum show in the backyard. I can do a lot from my studio at home, but making noise in the neighborhood is a little bit problematic, from a good neighbor point of view. 

“The ACW space is ideal for making things. I like that I can drop in for a month to do this kind of specific work for the show.” 

Aside from her own art, Lowell organizes periodic meetups of “like-minded folks” who get together to “repair, take apart, fiddle with, mend” miscellaneous items from an artistic point of view. She hopes to move the meetings to ACW after her museum show.

“ACW just came into possession of an industrial Singer sewing machine and a serger,” she said. “My plan is to do some workshops about sewing machine maintenance and use, plus technical and inventive sewing stuff.”

Currently ACW has 25-30 members. Baggett would like to see more. “We’re not at capacity yet,” she said.

But she has hopes for the future growth as more artists find out about the site. There’s a shortage of affordable workspace for artists in town, she said.

“Anchorage needs someplace like this.”

REFER: ANCHORAGE COMMUNITY WORKS; information, including how to become a member, is available at anchoragecommunityworks.com.