A map of Alaska with the Statewide region highlighted.
Region: Statewide
Program Area: Arts, Culture, Humanities
Grants Received:
2004: $283,196
2005: $90,000

Lie on the floor and look up at all the glass

Mission Statement
Rasmuson Foundation
Arts and Culture Initiative

The Arts and Culture Initiative goals are to ensure that:
  1. Alaska's quality of life is enhanced by a diverse and vibrant cultural community.
  2. Alaska's population has access to, engages in, and values arts and culture.
  3. Alaska provides a dynamic and supportive environment for creative artists.
  4. Alaska's cultural organizations are healthy and have the supports they need to be successful.
  5. Arts and culture are an integral part of pre-K through grade-12 education.
  6. Buildings, parks and other constructed projects enhance Alaska's visual landscape.
When I was in junior high, I read Gone with the Wind. I cried so hard when the Tarleton twins died that the pages of my paperback warped and wrinkled. The book swelled to twice its normal size. My father said, "What are you all worked up over? It's only a book."

Years later, I am in Anchorage. I find myself in an audience watching Tracy Hinkson in "Bent," the story of gays taken away to concentration camps in Germany. I'd already seen it on Broadway with Richard Gere, but I'm here because it's theater and it's live and I'm bringing my husband. Before he met me, he thought melodrama was theater.

A photo from the Anchorage Opera production of Giacomo Puccini's Turandot.Spacer Image The production is so good, I start to cry. Eventually, I'm snorting and sobbing. I am a choking mass of tears, blubbering and hiccupping, trying not to attract attention. My husband doesn't know what to do. "Should we leave? Do you want to go home?" I wouldn't leave that theater if he dragged me out. I came to that performance to be moved, and something in it The director? The actor? Took a story and breathed such life and death and love into it that I lost the space between me and the story. Something all new breathed in me, and I was different.

A photo of a harp player and the conductor at an Anchorage concert.Spacer Image Patricia Eckert is a vegetarian; she won't eat anything with a face. She loved her dog and, when he died, she wanted to tan his hide and make mittens. She went to the library to learn how to tan him, which required boiling him in gasoline. Patricia tells us this bizarre story as a performance piece at Out North Theatre. It is all so incongruous and ingenious and hilarious. I cannot believe someone can make something so outrageously funny and so sad and lovely. I laugh till people in the other rows turn around to see who it is.

Dale Chihuly and his exhibition of blown glass came to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and I got a chance to meet him. Big colored globes of glass and light fill the spaces at the Museum. One room is darkened and the spheres glow otherworldly-like, spaced around the room like aliens on another planet. In another room, huge globes are piled on top of a wide glass shelf. Chihuly says to lie on the floor and look up at all the glass. So later, when I bring my daughter to the exhibit and we lie on the floor and people stare at us, I say, very loudly, "The artist said this was how to look at it." It is a whole new vision. We cannot believe these spheres are made of glass; they look like liquid color, maybe soft, colored air.

We walk toward the darkened room. A couple of globes glow out to us, and Sophie screams and runs away. I hold her hand, tell her it's just more glass balls, and we approach closer. She can't stand it; she tears off. The room is eerie. The balls are alive.

Susan Joy Share makes books, and for two days, I had signed up to make books with her. I choose paper, cut it to a size I might like. I make folds, scores, hinges. I stitch and glue, emboss and mix paint. I touch the paper often and feel it. At 6 p.m. on the second day, Susan says the workshop is over. I look up. Now I remember that I don't live in this studio with these books.

I dared myself to write a play and did. I had some really deep grief and it needed a voice and humor, and one thing just led to another till I was on stage. Why, why, why? Nobody held a gun to my head and said, "Expose yourself." Why do I put myself in these places? I want to vaporize, but I plunge ahead and win the audience. I can hear them crying and laughing and squirming. They are with me. My grief became art, touched them, and moved on.

Barbara Brown, an award winning columnist for the Anchorage Daily News for eight years, is now Director of Leadership Anchorage, a program of the Alaska Humanities Forum in which she leads conversations with leaders on "Practicing Courage" and Earning Trust." Barbara has written and starred in a one woman show for Out North Theatre, her essays, short stories and columns are in several anthologies, most recently Traveler's Tales Alaska. Barbara is also the "Werd Nerd" for the annual Anchorage Literacy Project adult spelling bee and spends summers as the Storytime Lady at the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage, where she lives.