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AK Art: New Arc of Anchorage studio aims to spark community involvement

By Hope Miller 4:41 PM July 29, 2014

Art in all forms is encouraged at The Arc of Anchorage’s new downtown studio and gallery.

For 38-year-old Monica McLeod, it’s painting and origami. Thursday afternoon, she sat at a table in the studio and gingerly folded a patterned piece of paper until a crane emerged.

Christopher Vance, 43, says he enjoys drawing when he’s not busy preparing food at the federal courthouse or helping out staff at Como Family Chiropractic in West Anchorage.

And then there’s André Hogg, whose vibrantly colored paintings are already on display at the gallery.

Sparc: A creative place, located at 425 D St., had its grand opening earlier this summer. Art classes are nothing new for The Arc — a nonprofit that assists people who experience intellectual and physical disabilities — but the new space in the high-traffic area of downtown is a major development.

Lacie Stiewing, an art program team leader with the nonprofit, said she hopes the change ushers in an era of increased community involvement with the artistic side of The Arc.

“So unless you’re kind of in the know, a lot of people haven’t known about it,” Stiewing said of The Arc’s art classes, which the organization has had for more than a decade.

They offer everything from the popular ceramics class to printmaking, painting, drawing, mosaics and more. Staff with art backgrounds teach the courses, but Stiewing would like to recruit local artists to pop in for some of the classes. She also aims to add one-day workshop-style sessions for weeknights and weekends.

Integrating the public into the classes is another development.

“It’s really in line with the vision of The Arc, which is to be a community that recognizes and embraces people of all abilities,” Stiewing said of having classes open to the public. They’re slated to begin in September.

A sculptor with experience in the Alaska art scene, Stiewing was hired back in February to help with Sparc’s development. Collaborating with other Alaska artists is another goal, she said, noting that the International Gallery of Contemporary Art is just next door.

“The art community is very supportive,” she said.

Events are another way to appeal to the community. For Sparc’s August First Friday, Hogg — who has been taking art classes at The Arc since 1994 — will be the star of the show. The theme of his solo exhibition: cats.

The series will showcase felines from Hogg’s imagination and photographs he studied. A line of retail cards with some of Hogg’s works will also be available, Stiewing said, and he will receive half the profits.

“We picked him because he’s such a prolific artist,” Stiewing said. “He’s pretty independent; with a little bit of direction he can create a body of work.”

The focus isn’t just on solo exhibitions. The Arc of Anchorage will also host a group show at the Caffe D’arte in the Fur Rondy shop that will feature animal-inspired works, said Jacquelyn McGary, Arc of Anchorage spokeswoman. There will also be sled dogs, Rondy royalty and karaoke at the First Friday event.

In the end, it’s all about making sure The Arc’s artists have a fulfilling experience and get the support they need.

“It’s really exciting to see the opportunity for the artists. I think they’re psyched,” Stiewing said.

She knows she is.

Click here for more information about the First Friday events.

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