After eight months without an executive director, and in the midst of a pandemic that has thrown the arts world into uncharted territory, the Homer Council on the Arts finally has a leader. Former Pratt Museum curator of collections Scott Bartlett started on May 4.
“A new hope. A new beginning,” Bartlett said, joking in reference to May Fourth, known as Star Wars Day. “May the Fourth” is a play on the Star Wars phrase “may the Force be with you.”
Homer Council on the Arts had been without a director since the beginning of last September when former director Peggy Paver left to travel.
“It’s been a long dry spell here and the board is ecstatic to have him on board,” said Homer Council on the Arts Board of Directors President Kiki Abrahamson.
Bartlett worked at the Pratt Museum for eight years and came to Homer from Bremerton, Washington, where he worked at a small museum. He grew up in Gig Harbor, Washington. A percussionist, he has a master of arts in ethnomusicology at the University of Hawa’i at Manoa, where he also received a museum studies certificate.
Since moving to Homer in 2012 with his family, he has become immersed in Homer’s music and theater scene. He plays with and is on the board of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, is in the KP Brass Band and has played in the bands for the Pier One Theatre productions of “Spamalot!” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He also serves on the board of Museums Alaska.
That diverse arts background is part of why the council board chose Bartlett, Abrahamson said.
“Some of the things that really impressed us as a board were his commitment to the community,” she said. “He’s got a family here. His kids go to school here. He’s also got this wealth of diverse background knowledge in the arts.”
That experience also is what led him to apply for executive director, Bartlett said.
“Before I got into museum work I was involved in the performing arts and had done work with theater, and so I had in the back of my head, it (the council) really touches in all these artistic disciplines I’m involved with, want to get more engaged in.”
With the council gallery closed to the public because of the pandemic, and with in-person arts education events moved to online programs and concerts canceled, Bartlett acknowledged it’s a big challenge to run an arts organization.
“It’s an interesting scenario, for sure,” he said.
The council quickly adapted, however. It moved art shows online, like its current “Shorebirds of Kachemak Bay.” Art a la carte classes also are being offered through the internet. It sponsored a pandemic poster contest and a poetry contest. The council’s annual meeting, held on Mary Epperson Day in June, will be done as a virtual event. The council has put out a call for art in the format of 6-inches square to be part of a mural on its office building on Pioneer Avenue.
“It’s exciting here. There’s so much different stuff going on,” Bartlett said. “… We’re looking at how we’re going to do programming. It’s a big process. It’s all part of a puzzle.”
As the pandemic continues and businesses and government work out how to re-open safely, the council also will have to see how it can adjust. Abrahamson said the council wants to be responsible and keep flattening the curve and not contributing to a second wave in the pandemic.
Bartlett said that will mean smaller events and workshops.
“We’re not going to pack this gallery to the gills because of COVID-19,” he said. “It’s going to be small groups. Even having 30 people here for a performance might be difficult.”
One easy shift has been taking his arts contacts to the council, Bartlett said.
“It’s exciting for me to work over here and still work with all the partners I’ve grown to know over the last eight years,” he said.
Bartlett credited the council board with keeping the organization going without a director.
“(The art council’s) board right now is super engaged and involved,” he said. “There’s a lot going on right now. There’s a lot of energy here.”
Abrahamson said it has been a rough eight months working as an operating board. It has had one employee, Amanda Kelly, the administrative assistant.
From its roots as a performing arts sponsor, the council has continually shifted its focus as new arts and cultural organizations have developed in Homer.
“There are so many arts organizations now, and so many people doing different things, we’re going to have to work on our identity and which opportunities we can provide that aren’t duplicating efforts of people in the community,” Abrahamson said.
One aspect of the arts council that has developed is its arts education and as a home for youth and emerging artists to grow.
“I think giving an opportunity for everyone to experiment with art, to do things they feel they’re not qualified to do as an artist — they can get some access to it,” Bartlett said. “… I think there’s a real sense on the board that the arts council has nurtured a lot of programs that have gone off on their own. We’re an incubator for new programming.”
A big capital project to build a medium-sized theater in a yurt is on hiatus, Bartlett said.
“I’m not going to jump really headstrong into that right now,” he said. “… I think that mid-size theater is still something people want in Homer. … It’s a hard time to be expanding stuff.”
Abrahamson said Bartlett brings another quality to the director’s position.
“He is such a calm, thoughtful, intentional guy,” she said. “Having someone like him at the helm is going to be really great.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.