Salmon Jam raises much-needed arts funds

Jazz, hula and Hawaiian fire dancing entertain festivalgoers

Mahealani MacKenzie performs a traditional hula dance. The Ke Kukui Foundation’s display of Hawaiian music and dance rounded out the second night of Salmon jam on Saturday, July 13, 2019. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
Mahealani MacKenzie performs a traditional hula dance. The Ke Kukui Foundation’s display of Hawaiian music and dance rounded out the second night of Salmon jam on Saturday, July 13, 2019. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The Copper River Salmon Jam will give a critical boost to arts funding following the closure of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, says Cathy Renfeldt, Cordova Arts Council board member.

“The benefit that comes from Salmon Jam to this community does not stop on July 13,” Renfeldt said. “It is year-round. The loss of the state’s arts council is going to have a huge impact, but the fact that we have Salmon Jam, this great fundraiser… helps us to try to make it up a little bit.”

Along with Salmon Jam, the Alaska State Council on the Arts had been the main source of arts funding to Cordova prior to the council’s closure on Monday, July 15, due to a line item budget cut by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The festival also brings skilled artists and professionals to Cordova, where they are positioned to mentor local youth, Renfeldt said.

This year’s Salmon Jam drew performers from the Ke Kukui Foundation, who presented an evening of Hawaiian music, traditional hula dance and a display of fire dancing by Zachary Hun, on Saturday, July 13. Alaskan jazz group the Dan Mac Band closed out both nights.

Throughout the afternoon and evening of July 12-13, the festival’s Artisan Market showcased the wares of Cordova’s small businesses, from slices of pizza to sticks of Japanese incense.

Manning a booth at the market, Autumn Deaton, 16, found herself facing the public for the first time. Through Flora May, a business named after Deaton’s great-grandmother, Deaton sold prints of her artwork, drawn in a quirky minimalist style. At present, 1 percent of Flora May profits go to the American Cancer Society, but Deaton hopes to donate more once her business enjoys a thicker profit margin.

More veteran was Tony Bove, who has operated a glassblowing workshop at the Orca Adventure Lodge since 1996. In his workshop, Bove turns out Pyrex sockeyes and halibut the size of matchboxes. The larger glass sculptures Bove makes for out-of-state customers are easier than these delicate pieces: the smaller the product, the bigger the job.

“Fishing and glassblowing take patience,” Bove said. “The last decade, I’ve been working in remote Alaska with a lot of salmon moving through my hands … It can teach you to stay calm and do your job.”

Elsewhere in the Artisan Market, Raven Madison sold traditional medicines, Amber Wasson her hand-sewed gnome dolls, and Charity Schandel loose-leaf teas and smudge bundles. The Little Cordova Bakery’s Snack Shack fed attendees both days of the festival.

Saturday, July 13 began early for the 300 Alaska Salmon Runs participants. Commencing at 7 am, running events ranged from a one-mile fun run to the King Salmon Marathon. The evening concluded with the Alaska Salmon Runs BBQ and the Taste of Cordova wild food cook-off.

If the second day of Salmon Jam was more energetic than the first, it was due to the introduction of Small Fry Activities, a set of educational and competitive events for young Cordovans. Highlights included an activity in which children painted actual fish, starfish and marine rays and used them to stamp colored shapes on fabric. A booth that allowed children to build their own fishing lures and to watch marine insects swimming in a tank was supplemented by in-person appearances by Smokey Bear and Ruby the salmon.

Major “spawnsors” for the festival included Alaska Airlines and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., as well as Cordova-based businesses like Harborside Pizza, Alaska Marine Lines and KLAM/KCDV Radio.

Putting on a vibrant festival continues to be a vital part of drawing visitors to Cordova, Renfeldt said.

“People don’t end up here by accident,” Renfeldt said. “People don’t visit Cordova like, ‘Whoops! Our tire blew out and now we have to spend an extra day somewhere.’ … We have to work a little bit harder to get people here and to make sure that they have a good time and get to have some true, authentic Cordova experiences.”