EAGLE RIVER — Theater seats at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy will get a new home while the Eagle River nonprofit looks for one of its own.
On Monday, Oct. 30, Big Lake’s Martin Buser helped remove seats from the small downtown Eagle River theater, cranking a ratchet to unfasten the seats while communicating with the disembodied voice of the AFAA’s Arthur Braendel Jr. — who was hidden beneath the seats and presumably working the wrench end of the operation. The empty space above AIH in Eagle River was filled with the distinctive high-pitched snare of Buser’s ratchet interspersed with a few grunts and cooperative shouts through the floor.
For the past 11 years, the theater has been home to dozens of local productions, as well as dance classes, art programs, summer camps and other artsy pursuits for children and adults. But Braendel — son of the AFAA founders Arthur and Eleanor Braendel — said the building’s owners and the board decided the time had come to move on.
“It was kind of a mutually agreed upon thing,” Braendel said after climbing out from beneath the seats as Buser began hauling the seats outside.
A sled dog musher who operates tours at his kennel in the Mat-Su, Buser said he plans to use the seats at his kennel’s visitor center. In order to get the seats outside, however, he had to haul them downstairs — illustrating one of the drawbacks of AFAA’s windowed perch above the Old Glenn Highway.
“We’re going to try to find an (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant building,” Braendel said.
Buser’s help was mush needed: the seats were among the last items to leave the location, which the AFAA had to be out of by the end of October.
Finding a new home has always been the ultimate goal of the AFAA, which was founded 33 years ago as the Eagle River Fine Arts Academy and has been a focal point for arts in the community ever since. Ultimately, Braendel said the group would like to build its own home on six acres of land off Eagle River Loop Road. Although funding isn’t available for a dedicated space, Braendel thinks now might be the time to renew the push.
“This might be the impetus to push us stronger in that direction,” he said.
On its website, the AFAA has an artist’s rendering of a modern, open design with a large deck incorporated into the surrounding forest. Such a place could host theater productions, dance recitals, community events and more, he said. But in order for that to happen, he said the AFAA needs more people to join the effort to build arts in Eagle River.
“We just need broad community support from people that would get behind a community arts center like that,” he said.
Braendel said he’s looking at leaving the space as a way for the nonprofit to find its direction.
“It’s an opportunity to regroup,” he said.
He said the AFAA is in the process of creating a new business plan and is examining all its options when it comes to finding a new home.
“We’re kicking around all kinds of ideas,” he said.
In the meantime, at least one AFAA theater production has been cancelled while the group scrambles to find locations to hold its private lessons and group classes. In a Facebook post Oct. 10, the academy said arrangements were being made for classes to be held on an interim basis. Executive director Lailani Cook echoed Braendel’s sentiments, agreeing that all options are on the table for the academy.