The second year of the Sitka Fellows program is underway. The seven-week program gives participants housing and studio space on the Sheldon Jackson Fine Arts Campus, and complete freedom to pursue any sort of project.
Bessie Young is a Sitka Fellow originally from New Jersey, who’s been studying for her Master’s Degree in Ireland.
“I’ve been working on this project in Belfast and interviewing elderly women with dementia. And I’ve been doing a separate portion of the project that involves memory and the landscape, and trying to look at the links between memory gaps young people have with healthy memory and the memory gaps that someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia has, to help young people understand and empathize with the elderly.”
Young — like the six other Sitka Fellows — is under 30. She’s been involved in working with the elderly since her undergraduate years at Amherst College.
“If you are comfortable with a difficult topic, that’s an area you should really pursue and help people deal with. I deal with it myself through my artwork.”
Young will use her seven weeks in Sitka to continue work on her Master’s project. She plans to spend time in Sitka’s senior care facilities, getting to know the residents.
Young is reluctant to call herself a photographer. She says she is a struggling artist and student. But she does have a solid sense of purpose behind her work.
“A criticism of photography, and something that I struggle with a lot is whether taking a photo of someone is exploitative. And if you’re just taking that shot, what is the context, what will it be used for, and what is the message? Especially in the digital age when you just get photos out of context. I try to understand a person as a whole, and I’m more interested in capturing a feeling or a moment or a person, rather than getting that stellar shot. That’s why I’ve been using a lot of video, because running a video and sort of capturing someone talking and listening, and leaving that open space for them to be who they want to be, is less objectifying than taking a picture and walking away.”
Like last year, the 2013 class of Sitka Fellows is a diverse group. Among others, there is a playwright, novelist, technology innovator, cultural blogger, and a banjo player who creates “immersive, deeply-visceral sound poems.”
Tully McLoughlin helps run the Sitka Fellows Program, which he co-founded in partnership with the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and Sitka legislator Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. He says the second year of the program is just as important as the first — if not more so.
“So we’re still in that tender, adolescent period where all the major growth takes place and you have to prove out your concept. You have to prove that you’re serious about what you’re doing, and it has real purpose in the world.”
The Sitka Fellows will be on campus through August. Near the end of the month, the fellows will host an open studio to share their work with the community.
KCAW’s Holly Keen contributed to this story.