Stephen Blanchett is new to Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, but he’s no stranger to Juneau.
Before being hired as the JAHC’s new education director, Blanchett, who is an award-winning artist and performer, told the Juneau Empire he had done about 70 residencies in 50 communities, including residencies teaching Yup’ik dance in Juneau.
“It’s been a huge part of my life,” Blanchett said in an interview. “I’ve been sitting on the teaching side, but now I’m inspiring and mentoring folks to do it.”
Previously Blanchett worked as the Vice President of Development and Community engagement for the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and he said he’s excited to lead programs including oversee programs including Artists in the Schools, Partners in Education, Any Given Child, Artful Teaching, Poetry Out Loud and the after school ArtShops program at Cedar Park and Geneva Woods.
“What really hit the nail on the head for me, and it was like, ‘This is the job,’ is the Artists in Schools program,” Blanchett told the Juneau Empire. “I’ve been a teaching artist for almost 30 years now. I absolutely love working with the youth and teaching.”
The importance of exposure to art at a young age is something Blanchett experienced first-hand while growing up in Bethel.
“Growing up, dancing at that time, when I was a kid, was just starting to come back,” Blanchett said. “Due to colonization and the church and all that it had been forbidden to dance, so back in the ’70s when I was a kid, it was just starting to come back, and you only ever really saw older people doing it. So I think that background and seeing that it wasn’t really being transferred to young people, I thought that was a huge need that needed to be filled.”
Blanchett took time Thursday to talk to the Capital City Weekly about what he hopes to do as education director and why he suspects Juneau will be good for his art.
What attracted you to this position?
For me, the Humanities Council is really the only organization I’ve engaged with. Coming here in the past, they’ve presented my band before. I’ve known Nancy (DeCherney) and the crew there for quite some time through concerts that we’ve done in the past. I really love the council. It’s so arts-focused, especially communitywide, and that was very attractive for me.
I know it’s just getting started, but do you have any specific goals for what you’re hoping to get done?
My No. 1 goal is to increase the roster of teaching artists. The roster here for teaching artists is very, very small (about 20 artists), and I feel like every other person … are you an artist?
If you count writing.
Yeah, absolutely. Every other person I’ve been meeting here in Juneau in the week and a half I’ve been here is an actor, a writer, a dancer, a singer, musician. I’ve been meeting so many artistic people here, but that roster of folks that actually go and teach in the schools and universities is very small. That’s my first goal is get the message out to artists that they too have something to share with these young people.
So that’s No. 1 with a bullet, any other goals?
I would say as a secondary goal is to get the schools and the teachers confident to use arts in their curriculum. A lot of teachers expressed that they know how to grade a research paper, but how do you grade, say a graphic novel or a piece of art. Getting teachers and administrators more comfortable, that’s a secondary thing.
Do you intend to create and perform while you’re here in Juneau?
In my previous position, I had no time. My work at the center pretty much stopped a lot of the creative part of it. I was still able to perform here and there but not the creation of new things. Here, I feel I’m in this place that’s so beautiful that I feel that I’m going to be inspired to create. Recently, I was awarded two fellowships (from the Rasmuson Foundation and Dance USA) to kind of allow me to create that space for myself — the process of music, of dance compositions and working with mask dancing. There’s a lot to this job though, so I’m hoping that there’s time.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.