My first week in Dawson has been remarkable. This place is so unlike Portland, the culture of living in northern community is at once familiar and very strange. I just realized this morning that I'm closer to Russia than I am to Portland. But I'll be quick and to the point:
Flight without security. The Airnorth trip that flies North from Whitehorse making stops in Dawson City, Old Crow, and Inuvik (on the Arctic sea!) has no security clearance. No metal detector, no pat down, no x ray. It's also really cold on board until they shut doors and get the heat going! Sometimes when it's foggy in Dawson City, they skip it and head further north to Old crow, then Inuvik and stop in Dawson on the way back. I wasn't that lucky this time...
I've already experienced incredible generosity as extreme as the weather. Total strangers Miche and Hector picked me up at the airport in Whitehorse, welcomed me into their home, put me up in their guest room, cooked a beautiful Halibut meal and sent me on my way with baked goods! Doug and Jessica, spent their saturday afternoon chauffeuring me to galleries and wateringholes around Whitehorse and briefing me on local politics and history. Up in Dawson I was welcomed at the Airport by Dan from KIAC, and the unofficial welcoming committee Justin (previous Artist in Residence), Joey, and Sarah (my roommate) met me at the house and showed me around town for the first couple days here. Then two days ago, Eldo slams a $50 down on the table insisting that I come to the wine tasting event a couple days later.
Freeze Up is a local term. It refers to the time period while the Yukon river is freezing and the ferry that normally runs 24 hrs/day is pulled out. The river remains pretty much impassable unless you have a canoe, or nearer the end of the freeze, you're feeling daring and light. Once it's totally frozen over, the town builds an ice bridge so that cars, trucks and snowmpobiles can cross. To get a sense of what this means for the town, you need to know that about 100 people live in west Dawson and are stranded - many of them without running water, electricity or internet - for 4 to 6 weeks. Last Tuesday was the last day the the ferry ran. I walked my new friends Justin and Joey across and dropped them at their cabins, had a beer and caught the very last ferry back.
Some guiding questions for my stay here:
What do visitors, like me, offer to the town, and how do they weigh on the community?
What does gentrification look like in Dawson? How do art and culture play into that process? What are the tensions between artists & non-artists, first nations & non-first nations, Chechakos (summer visitors) and sourdoughs(full time residents?
I've noticed some problematic infrastructure in town, such as the saga of the new hospital construction and the renovation of the Art and Margaret Fry Arena. Is there a correlation between these two? What goes wrong in these projects?
How do people/groups/organizations collaborate in Dawson? How would you characterizer these relationships? How do you characterize the pace of community work/development in town?
The failure of the rink. So many of you know that I came up here to make an ice rink and to present that as an art space. Well, for a few reasons that's probably not going to work out during my month up here. And, I owe an explanation to the people I've told over the past two years preparing for this month why it isn't going to work out. Honestly, I was devastated when I realized. Part of it is weather. The high is about 0˚C (freezing) and goes down to -15˚C at night (5˚F), and for a first flood it needs to be very cold - another 5˚ or so. Personally, I'd be willing to risk it, but it's not up to me. Another part of it is small-town politics. The city's priority is to lay ice in the arena. The arena uses natural sub-freezing temperatures to make and maintain their ice. This is part of a greater issue related to the renovation of the arena that happened 10 years ago, and resulted in the town going bankrupt due to bad engineering - and a few other factors, I'm sure. From what I understand, the situation got so bad that city council shut down, and the Yukon territorial government stepped in to manage affairs for a time. Families were divided, and residents were furious with each other. One person I spoke to about it said that that time is referred to as 'the dark days'. There are some other problems as well, the recreation department coordinator and the fire chief who was going to flood the rink are both in West Dawson stuck until freeze up is over.
The Replacement project. About a week before I left Portland, I realized that it is crucial for me to be responsive to the social climate here. Frustrated with the very male and colonial gestures of many public artists going to a place and 'leaving their mark' and quitting town - an error I am totally guilty of in the past - I wanted my projects here to follow the current of things here. Having swum upstream for the last project I did here, Peanuts and Crackerjack, I wanted my work to follow the pace of things here. Within the first couple of days here, Lindsay, who works at the Trondëk H'wichën Youth Centre knocked on my door and asked if I had any interest in Radio Drama. Peter Menzies, who teaches at the high school contacted me to see if I'd be interested in getting youth on the Radio. And I'm planning a collaborative radio piece with students at the School of Visual Art, and another piece I'm creating for youth participating in a week-long Arts Enrichment Intensive. My stay here will culminate in a one-day take over of CFYT 106.9 FM. Stay tuned for more!