My name is Jessica Peña, I am executive director of Fairbanks Arts Association. I am here in support of HB 2001 to restore funding to agencies, programs, and services that are of great value to the health and well-being of Alaskans and foster resilience, connection, growth, and excellence in our communities.
This is an image I like to use at Fairbanks Arts in our publicity; a joyful moment from an artists in schools residency funded in part by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. I’m not here to share facts and figures again regarding the multiple benefits of this small but impactful agency, or how financially the reduction of the state’s $700,000 allocation represents around $3 million lost for Alaska, but that information will be available for you to read once more in your inboxes.
When I uploaded the residency’s photos to my computer, this original image included self-harm scars on the wrists of a student. Through blurred eyes, I used a tool called the ‘healing brush’ in Photoshop to smooth them away and increase the student’s anonymity. A director of the youth facility where this and many other residencies took place once told me that, although the residents would sometimes act violently, they never did so while engaged in creative activities. And, while parts of the facility have sustained damage, not a single one of the artworks have because of the pride and comfort found in them.
I have never shared the story of this photo publicly. I’ve kept it to myself because I dislike the idea of modifying a person’s appearance or dishonoring their experiences. However, I do bring it forward now to honor the fact that this student is still around – and it’s not a sob story, but one of resilience. One of so many in our state that feature the arts, culture, and creativity as key to resilience and growth: academically, mentally, culturally, and because of the nature of these conversations, I’ll bring it up again... financially.
I keep this story close. Embracing the arts as a core civic value, with the ‘healing brush’ effect it has on our diverse communities, whatever we individually and collectively need those brush strokes to look like, drives my work within the arts & culture sector. I hope you’ll keep it close too.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my testimony today and for truly standing tall for Alaskans