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Arts, Culture & Community Features

SWAAG - Southwest Alaska Arts Group merges existing Y-K Delta arts groups with eye towards expanding

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Southwest Alaska Arts Group
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Moses Tulim, pictured with a mask he carved, is the first president of the Southwest Alaska Arts Group.

SWAAG, the Southwest Alaska Arts Group, is a new arts organization that was recently formed this month by merging two other local arts groups: the Bethel Council on the Arts and the Kuskokwim Arts Guild.

The Bethel Council on the Arts may be best known for hosting live performances in Bethel, like Cama'i. The Kuskokwim Arts Guild sells local artists’ wares at the Bethel Cultural Center. Both groups also offer scholarships and financial support to local artists and arts programs in the region.

Reyne Athanas, who has helped both groups for decades, said that the organizations were having trouble in recent years finding enough volunteers.

“And it just made sense for us to merge the two together so that we could share the resources, share the time, energy, and not double book on dates,” Athanas said.

She said that the newly formed Southwest Alaska Arts Group, or SWAAG, will continue the mission to promote, support, and foster artists throughout the region.

“This area, in particular, is so rich in arts and crafts and performance. It's important that we preserve that, and we continue to support not only the traditional, but the new,” Athanas said.

Anne Kosacheff is part of the transition team helping form the new group. While SWAAG is based in Bethel, she said that the group supports artists across the Y-K Delta. And one day, maybe even further. That’s why they changed the name to the Southwest Alaska Arts Group.

“We didn't want to say, 'Yes we’re the Bethel arts group,' because we're not. We have 40 different artists from as far as Nightmute. And we have some art in the shop from Toksook Bay. I mean, we cover this whole delta. And if we wanted to expand into a different village, like Kotzebue, or Nome, or Dillingham, like, who's to say we couldn't do that with this name,” Kosacheff said.

Kosacheff hopes that SWAAG benefits everybody in the region, not just artists.

“Art is out there so that other people who may not consider themselves artists are inspired by it at any level. Whether they're inspired to make something, whether they're inspired to think differently. I think it's a really important tool to kind of get out of your brain and into the world more,” Kosacheff said.

SWAAG recently elected its founding board of directors, which is led by president Moses Tulim. Its next board meeting will be on April 9. If you’re interested in helping out, you can call 907-953-8055 or email southwestalaskaartsgroup@gmail.com

Updated: January 21, 2022 at 1:37 PM AKST
Moses Tulim is also a KYUK board member.
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