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Kenai to host concurrent First Friday events

Susan Watkins stands next to her beluga painting
Hunter Morrison
Susan Watkins stands next to her beluga painting

If you wander into the conference room of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, you’ll notice you’re surrounded by nature. While there are no living plants or wildlife behind the chamber’s doors, there are 27 paintings on display that will transport you to the Alaska wilderness.

Susan Watkins is a local painter who has had previous work on display in retail and healthcare settings. Her exhibition at the chamber, called “Point of View,” is full of mountains, rivers and aquatic life. One of her favorite pieces shows a beluga whale blowing bubbles.

“I like to paint in a way that I can try to bring the viewer into the scene with me, so that’s the name, Point of View, it’s kind of my point of view," Watkins said. "The beluga whale, some days you just have to blow bubbles.” 

This is only the second time an artist has had work on display in an exhibit at the chamber, following the first First Friday event in September. Samantha Springer is the chamber’s executive director. She says she was inspired after attending one of the Kenai Art Center’s First Friday events.

“I was blown away when I went to their First Friday, and how busy it was and it reminded me of all the First Fridays, actually better, than the ones I had seen in Anchorage," Springer said. "This art community is already here and thriving, why not expand on that?”

The chamber has exhibitions and First Friday events scheduled through next September. Springer says every artist who submitted work for an exhibit was accepted. Some of them have never had work on display in a gallery setting.

Springer hopes not only to capture new artists, but expand events like these to other venues.

“I think it’s just so important that we continue to support the community," she said. "I think that’s been a constant theme that I’ve tried to address, making sure that we’re not just focused on the tourists and big business, but that we’re making sure we’re actually offering something to the community.” 

Two blocks away, the Kenai Art Center has a new exhibit of its own. The People’s Choice Judged Exhibition allows gallery-goers to vote on their favorite piece. The 33 pieces on display include sculpture, photography, mixed media and more.

Moira Ireland is one of the featured artists of the show. Her oil on canvas piece, titled “Vision,” depicts a ram within an explosion of color.

“With this, I just kind of let the colors go," Ireland said. "I didn’t realize that I had used so many colors in it until I had stepped back and realized it was kind of a rainbow.” 

The art center’s Executive Director Charlotte Coots says Ireland’s painting isn’t your typical animal portrait. Rather, it’s an abstract piece.

Coots says exhibits like these allow artists to express themselves in a way they might not with friends or neighbors.

“During the winter months, I think it’s really important to give people reasons to still be creative, and reasons to come out and do something," she said. "Also, it helps different artists in the community connect, because every show I see art submitted by an artist that I didn’t even know was here.”

Coots says one of the most exciting parts about hosting First Friday events is that they allow the community to connect, and understand how rich the local art scene is. In some instances, gallery-goers have discovered a friend or coworker is also an artist.

“Just to connect with other artists and have an opportunity to share what is speaking to you, or part of your journey in what you’re going through in life, it absolutely comes out in your art," Ireland said.

“As an artist, my view is that they relate somehow, that it touches them in some way, or that they’ve been or they can recognize that,” Watkins said. “Art and community, they go hand in hand.”

Both Springer and Coots talked about collaborating on First Friday events in the future. In the summer months, they feel gallery-goers could walk from venue to venue, bringing different groups of people together.

The Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Kenai Art Center will host this month’s First Friday events this Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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