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After-school workshops in New Stuyahok use art to heal

Drums used in the April 2022 art workshop in New Stuyahok.
Danielle Larsgaard
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Drums used in the April 2022 art workshop in New Stuyahok.

Danielle Larsgaard, a commercial fisher and a domestic violence counselor, recently embarked on a new business endeavor: A traveling art studio, called Aliiraq Arts. She aims to hold workshops on how people can use art to process emotion and address trauma.

“Bridging the gap between modern art and bringing back traditional art, our minds, our bodies, our hands, our souls," Larsgaard explained. "We heal best when we are practicing our cultural lifestyles, traditional lifestyles.”

 A finished drum sits in a plane. April 2022.
Danielle Larsgaard.
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A finished drum sits in a plane. April 2022.

She brought her studio to New Stuyahok during the last week in April, as part of AmeriCorps’ Resilient Alaska Youth after-school program, which partners with Tribes, schools and nonprofits in rural communities statewide to support youth activities. The program teamed up with the New Stuyahok’s Traditional Council to have Larsgaard lead the art workshops.

Larsgaard teaches a traditional drum-making class, where students craft 15-inch, sixteen-sided instruments. She also hosts an art therapy paint night with parents.

Mathias Suskuk, with the Traditional Council, said at least 22 kids participated in the workshop — so many that a few had to work on the project as a team.

“We started with drum making,” he said. “We sanded the drum part, the circle thing, so it could be smooth for the deerskin.” That deerskin will eventually get stretched over the hoop of the drum. "And then while that's drying up, we'll probably do painting,” he said.

For Larsgaard, these aren’t just art projects; she wants to address the generational gap created by boarding schools and other historical traumas.

“A lot of generations didn't learn how to preserve grass, or to go out and get hides and to stretch them and make drums and make rain gear and stuff like that," she said. "So with that generational gap, I'm fulfilling it with teaching these traditional classes for individuals who didn’t have an apa or an ama to walk them alongside and teach those things, or mom and dad to teach them how to live off the land or how to live off the water.”

A traditional handmade drum.
Danielle Larsgaard
/
A traditional handmade drum.

The program’s community development manager, Liza Krauszer, said these workshops are part of AmeriCorps’ mission to meet long-term community needs.

“The whole goal of our program is to build connections to culture, community and the environment," she said. "So this special project, with these artists traveling to communities, really ties into that goal of building that connection to culture.” She said it also builds connections between young people and the community at large.

Larsgaard and musician Ossie Aassanaaq Kairaiuak, of the band Pamyua, have traveled to six communities to conduct workshops this spring.

“The goal of these classes is to teach those traditional values, those traditional art skills and how to use our hands, our minds, bodies and souls to heal,” said Laarsgaard.

The New Stuyahok workshops aren’t limited to kids in the after-school program; the whole community can get involved.

“We're inviting Elders to come in and share stories," Larsgaard said. At the end of the workshop, parents can learn about what their kids have been doing in the workshop. Larsgaard said parents can also listen to the kids play their drums, sing traditional songs and dance together.

The Resilient Alaska Youth program also collaborated with the communities of Kokhanok, Ketchikan, Nanwalek, St. Michael and Chevak this spring. It will open applications for new community partners in May. For more on how to participate, visit the website: https://ruralcap.org/client-services/health-well-being/resilient-alaska-youth-ray/

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

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