The peninsula art community came out in force Saturday morning to support an arts summit hosted by the Kenai River Council on the Arts. The council unveiled preliminary plans for funding and building an arts center with the hopes of sparking the area economy and influencing tourism.
"You all believe the arts have something for your hearts and something for the pocketbooks of the Kenai Peninsula," said Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center Director Kathy Tarr to meeting attendees.
Organizers sought to bring artists and artisans from the peninsula area together to establish a network that would, in its earliest stages, create an arts directory and calendar. With more than 50 attendees from a variety of peninsula communities, council president Mike Morgan introduced the concept of the proposed arts and commerce center.
"We didn't want to move ahead until we connected with the artists in this area," Morgan said. "We didn't want it to only be the central peninsula area."
Betsy Arbelovsky of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District echoed Morgan's sentiment, saying the funding vehicles she has uncovered to begin this project call for cooperation from the entire peninsula.
"It will only happen if the entire peninsula is working together," Arbelovsky said. "Everybody has to be involved. Everybody has to have their say."
She said her office has been working with the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development to prepare a feasibility study to seek corporate and government funding for the project. The study will spell out how area artists currently work and what facilities they need to create their works. Then they would determine what type of financial impact it could have on both the artists and on the community.
One goal of the center is to increase tourism from both the Lower 48 and within the state. Tarr said the great outdoors and sport fishing industries sell themselves as far as attracting tourists. She said this area had to focus on what was under the surface -- the arts.
"The state says cultural tourism is a niche market," Tarr said. "Cultural tourism is what we should be marketing."
She said the art and culture link on the new tourism Web site, www.visitkenai.com, have received the same amount of hits as the link for sports fishing.
Arbelovsky said the center could attract visitors, who would come to patronize the arts, but spend time and money in other areas of the community. There also will be the factor of construction jobs.
"This is clearly an economic development vehicle," Arbelovsky said. "It will make jobs and bring people to the peninsula."
Morgan said the next step, following showing feasibility, would be finding sponsors. He estimated three years for the project.
"I don't think there are any roadblocks," he said. "Our main concerns are how, where, why and what it will look like. The purpose of this meeting is to help, as a community, to determine what it will look like.
Morgan suggested renovating one of the abandoned fish canneries near the mouth of the Kenai River to beautify the area. He said the Ward's Cove Cannery was one of the locations his group has looked at.
"Now that that property is available, let's make it something attractive to look at," Morgan said. "Something that fits the country-old tradition."
But Tarr said the cause is lost if area artists don't present an organized plan.
"Nonprofits have to shed the 'woe is me' attitude," she said. "We want to be working from a position of strength. We have to get the message out that the arts are essential."
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