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A Journey to What Matters and ASCA Partnership- Graduate ARTShops 2021

The ARTShops program is a collaboration between the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Native Heritage Center and The CIRI Foundation’s A Journey to What Matters: Increased Alaska Native Arts and Culture grant program. Established in 2016, ARTShops support emerging Alaska Native arts leaders to develop their skills in leading community-based arts programs.

Graduate ARTShops 2021
Cauyaq Making Final Report
Story by: Amber Webb, ARTShop Leader

My Graduate ARTShop project focused on cauyaq (drum) and included demonstrations and instruction about harvesting and splitting frame wood, bending, and frame construction, and then drum covering with Ossie Kairaiuak. It also included discussion about, traditional etiquette and the role of Yuraq and drums in our social structure.  

            There were several methods we discussed around bending wood, one of which involved weighing wood down in a deeper part of Lake Aleknagik to use the pressure of water instead of steaming or boiling it.  This process made us wonder if that is why the original name for Aleknagik was a variation of the Yugtun word for a place to lash, since a lot of our bent wood utensils and tools were lashed.  This renewed interest in lashing techniques.  Some of us are also working on starting other projects with bent wood like dance masks, fans, bowls, containers and even kayak frames.   

            We were able to have daily potlucks and Yup’ik dancing during class and in the evening as well.  It was a small group who came to dance, but it included some of our most enthusiastic community members.  It was especially meaningful for my sister and I who danced for 12 years with the Greatland dancers under William and Marie Tyson of St. Mary during our childhood.  Neither of us had danced in about 20 years and we both remembered the songs better than I had expected.   

            One very special moment after the class was when my husband’s 80 year-old uncle who is in the early stages of dementia and usually very quiet came to the house and saw the drum that was made at the workshop.  He became very animated and asked to hold the drum. He began drumming and then stopped, exclaiming that he hadn’t seen one of these in many years.  He then asked if he could take the drum home to practice a song that he was trying to remember so that he could come back and play it for his nephew.   

            After the class, we attended a Yuraq performance in Anchorage and my 4 year-old daughter, who had not seen much Yuraq before the class, was inspired on her own to go up next to one of the dancers and try dancing the song she had never heard.  Since the class, I will hear her sing some of the songs that we learned while she plays.  I believe our ARTShop will have a lasting regional impact during the coming years.   

            I appreciate the flexibility of the ARTShop program because it lends itself to traditional and informal ways of working.  Quyana for allowing me to participate in this program.