Art has been an important aspect of Juneau over the years, and 2017’s recipients for the Mayor’s Awards for the Arts are fine examples of that tradition living on through them.
Celebrating the arts in Juneau 081617 AE 1 Mackenzie Fisher, for the Capital City Weekly Art has been an important aspect of Juneau over the years, and 2017’s recipients for the Mayor’s Awards for the Arts are fine examples of that tradition living on through them.

Artist/model James Hoagland wows the audience with his Pure Imagination at the Wearable Art 2014 show at Centennial Hall on Sunday.Michael Penn | Juneau Empire

Betsy Sims in Studio A she makes and records music in Juneau. Michael Penn | Juneau Empire

Frank Katasse. Photo by Amy O'Neill Houck.

Mary Watson. Photo by Christopher Grau.

Tom Locher. Courtesy image.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Story last updated at 8/16/2017 - 2:23 pm

Celebrating the arts in Juneau

Art has been an important aspect of Juneau over the years, and 2017’s recipients for the Mayor’s Awards for the Arts are fine examples of that tradition living on through them.

The Mayor’s Awards for the Arts was first instituted in 2007 by Mayor Bruce Botelho in an effort to recognize both individuals and businesses in town who stand out for their specific, artistic accomplishments within the community.

Meet the Artist winner

This year’s recognized artist is Frank Henry Kaash Katasse who brought to Juneau the play “They Don’t Talk Back” in 2016 which was well received.

“I’m really proud of the opening for “They Don’t Talk Back” in Juneau. You’re working on something for two plus years and it all comes together in your home town,” Katsse said. “It was really a humbling experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Katasse was raised in Petersburg. But it wasn’t until his time spent at the University of Hawaii: Mānoa that he discovered, not only that he was meant to follow an artistic path, but also “how you can change things and make them your own and make them a representation of your culture.”

It was Hawaii’s localized theater that captured speech patterns and looked at issues that were specific to Hawaiians that helped Katasse come to terms with his own creative style.

Having his own voice is an important aspect in Katasse’s life and is prevalent in his writing. He encourages other writers to not let “silly things like grammar” get in the way of them finding their own voice.

“When you read my play, you see things that are (grammatically) wrong. That’s intentional, and it drove some people crazy,” Katasse said.

Katasse is Tsaagweidí (Split Killer Whale) from the Eagle moiety in the Tlingit tribe, which has allowed him to combine what he’s learned from living in a western society with that of his own culture to create his place-based and culturally relevant play “They Don’t Talk Back.”

His time in Hawaii also gave him the inspiration to show indigenous people in a contemporary light.

“Native people are still here and they live lives and face the same issues everyone does,” Katasse said. “It’s like, we celebrate those things in the past, and that’s great, but we need to remember that we are celebrating how we are right now too.”

Recently he was one of five writers that has been picked to participate in Perseverance Theatre’s Writer’s Circle that focuses on developing diverse, new Alaskan plays. This year’s group encourages and supports each other as they individually strive to produce a functional, complete play by the end of the required two-year period. Katasse expressed his excitement in being included in this experience. Perseverance Theatre also has the pleasure of having him as their Development Associate. He is involved with the Juneau Douglas Little Theatre as the Board President, as well as with productions such as Morally Impoverished, Theatre in the Rough, and others.

In an effort to increase student literacy skills and expand the use of Tlingit language, Katasse led the Voice on the Land Performing Arts Showcase presented by Sealaska Heritage Institute. Accredited as a writer, director, producer, actor and teaching artist Katasse’s artistic and creative abilities have awakened culturally aware conversations and thoughts throughout the community giving inspiration to future theatre artists.

The winner of Arts in Education

Miah Lager is being awarded for the work she’s done with arts in education. Lager is an art teacher at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School.

She attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but her love for art began when she was a young girl. Lager sets high expectations for her students, and in return, her students meet them. A press release from the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council said that “her 6th grade students’ artwork, the warrior’s armor and helmet Du Wakshu It’ch’ch, was included in the 2016 Sealaska Heritage Institute Juried Youth Art Exhibit, a detail of which was used for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council’s Season 43 image.”

Achievement in the Arts

James Hoagland, also known by his drag persona Miss Gigi Monroe, is being awarded the Achievement in the Arts.

The LGBTQ community in Juneau has Hoagland to thank for bringing drag “out of the bars into the daylight,” said the JAHC press release. The manner in which he’s been able to bring a sense of professionalism to the art of drag productions has given this town a dramatic increase in LGBTQ unity. Hoagland made Juneau his home four years ago bringing with him over a decade of experience as a professional drag queen. He’s appeared as Gigi Monroe during many events around town, from strutting his stuff at the Wearable Art show, to singing at retirement communities. Both yearly fundraisers, Glitz and Femme Fatale, are hosted by Hoagland and have been sold out each night. In addition, he also puts on multiple shows at the Rendezvous each year.

Hoagland’s passion to create an environment where everyone can be themselves can be seen in his work done to train other members of the community in the art of drag. Perseverance Theatre has had him host workshops that focus on him teaching the art of hair and makeup, costuming and contouring, choreography and music selection. He also owns his own wig styling business. “Hoagland’s productions attract performers (from) all over the spectrum: gay, straight, trans and bisexual, allowing them to express a part of themselves in a safe, artistic way,” stated the JAHC press release. “For many it’s their first experience doing drag, feeling loved and celebrated in a way that’s completely validating. James Hoagland’s work is truly transformative, taking performers who may be shy and introverted in their daily life, and outfits them with bright, colorful wigs and the confidence to strut the catwalk exactly as they are. He has fostered a positive community that supports each other, creating a place where they’re not just “coming out” but celebrated as an entire person, whether in heels or a chest binder.”

Business Leader for the Arts

Betsy Sims is being recognized with the award for Business Leadership for the Arts. Sims has dedicated her life to performing and working as an audio engineer. She runs Studio A, a local sound company, and is the house sound engineer for the Perseverance Theatre. Her work with sound can be appreciated at events such as Wearable Arts, Who’s Your Diva, the Juneau Symphony concerts, and the Alaska State Folk Festival.

“It is not unusual to have her producing sound for two events at a time, running briskly, efficiently, tirelessly, and seemingly unflapped between them both. Her ability to organize and plan carefully and her dedication to producing the best possible sound for the performers is amazing” stated the JAHC press release.

Sims also dabbles on the guitar and has developed a love for the Zimbabwean marimbas; she shares her love for this unique instrument and of all music throughout the community.

Innovator in the Arts

Tom Locher is being awarded for inspiration and innovation in the arts. He began his journey as a student of music at the age of three, beginning by copying his four older brothers’ piano lessons.

By the time he started attending Harborview Elementary School he was already playing by ear. At 11 he decided to take up guitar. Around that same time he can remember being brought into the Red Dog Saloon for the first time with his parents to listen to a few pianists. In the 6th grade he began playing the alto sax. He really began to take an interest in jazz music during junior high in stage band and his love for jazz grew after being introduced to Wayne Norlund, who eventually became his jazz duo partner. As a teenager, Locher joined a garage band that played gigs around Juneau. There were a few members of the Juneau community he can still remember to this day who inspired him as a young artist, one of whom was Betty Allen. The other was John Carswell who played the keyboard and sang around town; he once saw Carswell play at Mike’s Place, now the Island Pub, a restaurant Locher eventually performed at.

Music has played an important role in Locher’s life now for half a century. And he has performed semi-professionally for around 40 years.

Locher retired from his job with the state four years ago and has been dedicating much of his time to three volunteer projects around Juneau. Locher began serving as the music director for the Juneau Cabaret the same year it was founded by Laura Haywood in 2009. Locher is also the music director of the Great American Songbook lecture concert series, a program in connection with Juneau Cabaret.

For nine years Locher has been volunteering at the Pioneers’ Home once a week, and for the past two and a half years he’s been going to Wildflower Court once a week to play music for their residents.

“That’s a really important project because it… dovetails with their music and memory project,” Locher said. “They try and encourage and build the confidence of elders who are experiencing some cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s or dementia and sometimes it can really help that resident to hear music from their past.”

He also has spent some time volunteering at the Sitka Pioneers’ Home. A PBS show called “Alive Inside” explores the idea that musical memory is stored in a different part of your brain which helps you retain that information longer. Many of the residents who live in pioneer homes no longer have loved ones to anchor them to their past memories, making music all the more important.

“When I first started doing it I thought, ‘Oh it will be nice to go out there and play music from their era.’ Then you have a few residents come over to you and tell you ‘I don’t remember anything else today but I do remember the words to that song,’” Locher said. “The main point I want to make there is your life goes better with music in it. And people feel genuinely encouraged and a little bit restored when they hear an old song that takes them back.”

Locher coaches singers who want to do cabaret or jazz singing as well as pianists and other accompanists.

He is talented in playing two instruments at the same time, the keyboard bass and piano, and has inspired many young people interested in the Great American Songbook as well as many others through the fundraisers he’s played. One in particular being the Juneau Alaska Music Matters’ Disney themed spaghetti feed.

He stands by the Juneau Cabaret’s mission to persevere through performance. Growing up, Locher was able to experience the support that Juneau offers emerging artists, and now has become an integral part of maintaining that important aspect of the community.

“My advice to developing artists is to bloom where you’re planted. Juneau’s a great place to develop as an artist,” Locher said.

Patron of the Arts

Awarded for being a Patron of the Arts is James Barron. Although from Adrian, Michigan, Barron states that Juneau is now his home and has taught in the Juneau School District for many years.

The JAHC press released said he “is proud to have launched the New JACC by claiming the naming rights to the Lobby Shop, the space to be claimed.”

Lifetime Achievement in the Arts

Receiving an award for a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts is Mary Watson. Although she was “very surprised” when she found out that she had been nominated for the award, it’s impossible to overlook all Watson has accomplished in the arts in Juneau. Watson’s family moved to Juneau when she was seven in 1955. She attended JDHS and then, in 1966, went off to the University of Southern California, School of Performing Arts. She dropped out of college after her third year due to her need for adventure and the allure of European music festivals. But after five years in London with her husband the homesickness she felt for Alaska took over and she returned to Juneau in 1976.

She atteneded the University of Alaska Juneau and was the first graduate in music in 1983. She began teaching as a private piano teacher in 1978. In 1980, she began teaching at the University of Alaska Southeast where she taught for 20 years. Since then she’s taught over 500 students.

“I didn’t know at first that teaching was what I was designed for,” Watson said. “I’ve had wonderful students and it has been a very important part of my life. Having these students, they are almost like surrogate children. You follow them after they leave you. It’s a really nice profession to be in … it’s paid in the satisfaction you get from teaching.”

Organizing fundraisers and performing at fundraisers, mainly for music organizations, has been an added passion in Watson’s life. She assisted in fund-raising for the Steinway grand piano that is jointly owned by the JAHC and JDHS. The old piano used at the Northern Light United Church needed to be re-hammered so she organized a concert to raise funds.

“If I see a need I will organize a concert of some kind to help out,” Watson said. “This is my town. I love my town and if I can find a way of enhancing the music here I’ll do it.” Recently, Watson organized and performed in a series of piano recitals to purchase the Schimmel grand piano for the New JACC. Some of the organizations she’s aided through her concerts are Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Women for Women International, and JAMM.

Watson isn’t positive what exactly her future will hold, however she said that, “I’m always up for helping organizations in need.”

The JAHC Mayor’s Award for the Arts and Season ’44 Kick-off Party celebrates the arts in Juneau on Sunday, Aug. 20 at 4 p.m. at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center with the presentation of awards, live music, election of new JAHC Board members, the first opportunity to purchase Performing Arts and Culture Concert tickets for the coming season, and to sign up to volunteer for season events. Light refreshments will be served, with a no-host bar. The event is free and open to the public.

Mackenzie Fisher is a freelance writer living in Juneau.