Kenai Arts and Humanities Council, Peninsula Art Guild, artists, craftspeople making most of e-commerce

Economic benefits don't only gush from offshore platforms

Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2000

In a community where the economy has traditionally been based on the oil and gas industry, the arts are often overlooked as a cog in the wheel that drives our prosperity.

But part of that contribution, said Ricky Gease, president of both the Kenai Arts and Humanities Council and the Peninsula Arts Guild, is what the arts do for the quality of life in our community.

"It's an important component to living here," he said.

Gease said that at a recent statewide conference on the arts, it was noted that it was important in the 1700s to live near a seaport, in the 1800s it was near the railway, and in the 1900s near the highway system. In the 2000s, it will be different.

"Today, with the Internet, people can live anywhere. So the focus is on quality of life," Gease said.

But while Gease described the arts community as strong and vibrant, he noted only a handful of artists make a full-time living at it.

"Many have seasonal jobs and use the arts to supplement their income," he said. "It's (also) a form of enjoyment, but it's different than say, jogging, because they are producing something to sell."

Gease estimates that the income for the majority of part-time artists is between $1,000 and $5,000.

"Though I know some people who are doing direct marketing on the Internet and are bringing in $2,000 a month," he added.

Gease said the Internet could be a boon to even more local artists.

"An interesting thing being done in Ketchikan, that we want to explore here, is that (an arts group there) held a week long auction on eBay to raise about $8,000, instead of getting local funding," he said.

The World Wide Web site eBay is an Internet auction house.

Gease said that artists shouldn't worry that they might be selling themselves short by marketing on auction houses, because the prices on eBay that the Ketchikan artists got reflected their usual market price. And needless to say, there is no sales tax on transactions made over the Internet, only commissions to the auction site.

Artists also are able to better compile a list of interested buyers and market to them directly in the future.

"The Internet has great potential for a community like ours," Gease said. "You can produce and sell art year-round instead of just waiting for the fish to come in."

And, of course, the peninsula's annual wave of summer visitors also holds great potential for the arts community, and therefore the whole economy.

Kathy Tarr, director of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, said her organization almost constantly is working to promote the arts.

"We're really trying to underline the 'cultural' part of our name," she said. "The arts are a magnet that bring people into Kenai."

One event that Tarr hopes will be an especially strong magnet is the Alaska 2000 Wildlife Art Show, scheduled for this summer.

"That is a prime example of that," she said. "It will be the largest wildlife show ever in Alaska, and it will be exclusive to Kenai."

Tarr said the show will feature 28 world-renowned wildlife artists showing original paintings.

"It will be a perfect match between arts and generating business because it is an art event of interest to residents and visitors alike," she said. "This show will put Kenai in the spotlight as a community where arts are going on."

To further promote the arts to tourists, the cultural center also is expanding its walking tour of Old Town. Whereas last summer it was self-guided, this summer there will be a guide, and the tour will end at the the Kenai Fine Arts Guild.

The center also hosts weekly interpretive seminars on culture and science.

"You won't see this kind of programming anywhere else," Tarr said. "Our speakers live here and it appeals to residents and visitors alike."

In an effort to make sure visitors from all walks of life know about the Visitors and Cultural Center, Tarr said, there will be another free breakfast meeting with locals who have the most contact with visitors.

She said she plans to invite hotel desk clerks, taxi drivers, bartenders and the like to a breakfast and present to them all the activities going on in Kenai this summer, so if a visitor asks, they will be better informed.

Tarr said she knows that cultural and artistic events are not what drives tourists to come to Kenai.

Unlike Seward and communities in Southeast, Kenai doesn't have tour companies piping visitors into town.

"We don't have tour buses or cruise ships coming in here. We have independent travelers," Tarr said. "But they are more interested in cultural tourism. And they spend more money."

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