Kodiak art project encourages salmon discussion

Children write responses to fisheries-based questions. Kitty Farnham sits far right. (Photo by Kayla Desroches / KMXT)

The first cohort of Alaska Salmon Fellows is wrapping up its pilot year with final projects.

The program brings together different innovators in the state, from policy makers to artists, and prompts them to start discussions about the salmon industry.

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Local Salmon Fellow Anjuli Grantham organized one recent art event at the Baranov Museum as her final project.

The museum and its partners invited the public to see a slideshow of artists whose work reflects the relationship between Alaskans and salmon.

People gather on the museum grounds. A projector plays a slideshow on a screen outside. It’s perfect weather for an event like this – not raining hard, but just overcast enough to keep people in town instead of out camping or hiking.

A salmon Fellows organizer has made it in for the occasion.

Kitty Farnham is the director of leadership programs at the Alaska Humanities Forum, which organizes the program. She wore an Alaska Salmon Fellows jacket which featured an icon of colorful fish.

At the beginning of the event, Farnham explained all 16 Salmon Fellows are doing projects in their particular areas, like education, history or policy.

“Being the Humanities Forum, we’re really looking at it though the people lens, and all the data in the world is valuable, but without having the relationships between people in different sectors, there’s really no way to address solutions that don’t become embroiled in win-lose, and we’re looking for solutions that really work across our communities,” Farnham said.

After wandering in, some people stopped in the yard to chat and a couple play a game called corn hole, aiming bean bags at a hole in a board. The sacks thump against the wood.

This is the kind of gathering Salmon Projections aims for. Farnham said the project is meant to spark conversation.

“There’s some parallel projects around looking at management systems, relationships between organizations and the official regulating bodies, education,” Farnham said. “Really also trying to change the narrative from one of we can’t agree on, you know, a sense of zero sum game and allocations to what’s best for our communities and for our salmon.”

On the porch, attendees snack on sushi.

Just inside the building, seaweed salad and smoked salmon are available alongside tea bags and a samovar full of hot water. By the end of the night, the platter of salmon is empty.

That’s one thing most people who attend have in common. No matter what their relationship to the fishing industry, they usually eat fish.

And they tend to agree that the larger aim is to keep the fisheries healthy and strong.

Sports fisherman Brent Pristas said the state should focus on industry sustainability.

“I think we keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Pristas said. “As long as we value it and place a proper emphasis on the salmon over other kinds of development, I think it will continue.”

Ginny Austerman, a longtime Kodiak resident, said the local fishing industry needs community growth.

“Things like cold storage and more processing plants and jobs for local people are very important as well as making sure that there’s fish for next year,” Austerman said.

Rita Stevens agreed it’s important to build up local infrastructure.

“Like improve the dock situation for the boats and the storage of boats and the dry dock and having repair shops here instead of having to go down to Seattle [and] take the business away from Kodiak,” Stevens said.

The museum encourages more conversations like these by setting up pieces of paper covered with questions about fisheries and sustainability and asking people to scribble their responses.

The Salmon Fellows will convene again in a couple of weeks. Farnham said they’re recruiting now for the next round of fellows, and the application period opens at the beginning of the year.