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‘Paris’ exhibit celebrates Sitka’s past and present

The Baranof Island Rueda All-Stars perform a salsa dance dedicated to late Sitkan, Alice Machesney, at the opening reception of the community curating exhibit, Sitka: Paris of the Pacific, Then and Now. (KCAW photo/Anne Brice)

Sitka’s Historical Society and Museum has opened a new exhibit. It’s not your typical show — it reflects a change in direction that some museums are taking, and Sitka’s curator is leading the way.


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When you think of a museum, you might picture famous paintings lining the walls or ancient artifacts housed behind glass. But you probably don’t think: Salsa dancing.

Well, when you’re Jackie Fernandez, you do. She’s Sitka’s museum curator and she’s challenging the way people think about history and art.

“There are just so many ways to interpret history, and to tell the stories, that I think it’s important to tap into all of them,” she said.

She moved here from Boston two years ago and brought with her the idea of community curating. It’s a way of both honoring the past and celebrating the present, by inviting residents to submit their own pieces to an exhibit. It can be anything — from an old photo to an original song — and Fernandez says it’s a great way to engage the community.

“It keeps the space relevant and vibrant and ends up allowing you to tap into all of this wonderful, creative energy and this talent that’s all around you,” she said.

This is Sitka’s fourth community curating exhibit. It looks at the city during Russian occupation in the 19th century, when it was the leading economic center on the Pacific Rim. It was this period of production and opulence that led Sitka to be known as, “Paris of the Pacific.”

“It was so fascinating to look at Sitka as a Paris of the Pacific in the 19th century,” said Fernandez, “but I couldn’t help but think about how today, in its own right, it’s lived up to title because this is such an amazing dynamic community.”

Sitkans submitted a variety of things, from a newspaper clipping about an artist who carved a totem pole for survivors of domestic violence to a poster for the annual wearable arts show.

At the opening reception, a group performed a salsa dance dedicated to accordion player and longtime Sitkan, Alice Machesney, who died in 2009.

Fernandez says that it’s a lot of work, but it’s work that’s well worth it.

“It’d be much easier if I just got to sit behind my desk, put it all together, and do it myself. That would be quick and fast and simple…but I don’t like to do anything quick and fast and simple. I think that Sitkans deserve better than that.”

The Community Curating exhibit, Sitka: Paris of the Pacific, Then and Now, is at the Sitka Historical Society until early December.

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