“Had that campus not been dedicated to the arts,” Zuill Bailey says, “Selling us the building (Stevenson Hall), the Fine Arts Camp, this would be a very different place. Sitka is constantly being reinvigorated by the arts, and the arts represent — to me — humanity.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The Sitka Summer Music Festival is in its 47th season — with evening performances on the main stage at Harrigan Centennial Hall, and pop-up concerts and events just about anywhere people gather in Sitka.

Although the festival is everything it’s always been from an audience perspective, for the performers things are about to undergo a dramatic change.

Artistic director Zuill Bailey announced at the Sitka Chamber of Commerce this week (6-13-19) that a $4 million restoration of the festival’s home — Stevenson Hall on the historic Sheldon Jackson Campus — will get underway this July.

Bailey said that the more-than-a-century old building will be upgraded with state of the art climate control to protect instruments, and more comfortable housing for students and performers who will study in the community year-round.

Here’s an excerpt of his remarks, accompanied by the Allemande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, which he performed for the Chamber  on his 326-year old Goffriller.

Everything’s limitless when this building is built. And it will all start here and end here. So every musician who comes here, as we did last year, will then spin throughout the state — tour the state — to bring an ambassadorship of Sitka to the rest of the state, and to bring arts education consistently to all of the villages. I just can’t believe it’s happening now. I’ve talked about this forever, and the building is happening. I have to thank Dirk (White) for his belief in this organization and his leadership, and the amazing board, Kayla Boettcher (executive director), Paul Rosenthal for creating this vision that was nonexistent. I’ve said this a million times over but there was no chamber music festival in the world until Paul created one here. There were institutions that had educational components, studies, schools — but there was no paradise that brought people because of classical music. And Paul created that here, the crown jewel of Alaska — Sitka.

Bailey does not always travel to the far reaches of Alaska with his Goffriller, which is sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, instead taking a modern, carbon fiber instrument — “Which is indestructible,” he said. “And I hate saying that in Alaska, because someone always says “Well, let’s see! Let’s drag it behind the tractor, let’s shoot it with a gun, let’s bear-spray it — whatever!”

This is Zuill Bailey’s 13th season with the festival. He told the Chamber of Commerce that he tries to balance the program with 70-percent veteran performers, and 30-percent new faces. “And…,” says Bailey, “everyone hopes I’ll ask them back.”