The thing about art is that it’s everywhere. While Fairbanks began as a trading post, it has since turned into a hub of artistic activity. Fairbanks can count watercolorists, architects, musicians, poets, photographers, beaders, knitters, bookbinders, storytellers and potters among its ranks. If it has an artistic edge to it, you can guarantee someone in the city is engaged in it.
Local businesses, acting as the artists home or canvas, are at the forefront of this activity. With its galleries and works of public art, historic Second Avenue is a treasure trove for the local art lover. The boulevard has dozens of businesses engaged in the activity of creating, whether they are artists themselves or provide support in the way of wall space or sponsorship.
Stop by downtown on any First Friday and you’ll see this passion made clear. Exhibits at Venue, 2 Street Gallery and the Fairbanks Community Museum routinely showcase a plethora of artists and are all mainstays of First Friday. On any given day you might see art by Brianna Reagan at Venue, works by Margaret Donat at 2 Street and watercolors by Tom and Nelda Nixon at the Fairbanks Community Museum.
Restaurants, too, are no strangers to art. At The Crepery, inside the Co-Op Plaza, you’ll find the eateries brightly painted walls adorned with Alaskan landscapes by watercolorist Vladimir Zhikhartsev. River City Cafe and Espresso, just down the block, is currently showcasing a eclectic mix of shadowboxes, paintings and photographs.
At Lost and Found, the cities only record shop, you’ll see artwork by Geneva Hobson and Sunny Park. The owners, Megan Frost and Max Hicks, are also artists themselves. A new shop, Bad Mother Vintage, will open next to Big Ray’s. The venue, which is slated to open in October, will be part art gallery and part thrift shop. Across the street, the Fairbanks Ice Museum houses a collection of ice art.
What if you’re a creator without a studio? Second Avenue has something for you, too. At The Hub, inside the historic Elbow Room, you’ll find a makerspace for whatever flavor of art you may be engaged in.
Step outside any shop and you’ll find yourself on Second Avenue proper. From almost any vantage point you can see something artistic to behold. All along the street are buildings, sidewalks and other various kinds of infrastructure that have been turned into canvases. Even light poles, festooned with flowers of royal purple and neon pink (thanks to Festival Fairbanks) are part of downtown’s colorful and artistic landscape.
A major theme of downtown’s literal, as well as artistic, landscape is the beautification of its infrastructure. Buildings are not just for inhabiting and sidewalks are not just for walking. In 2012, a collection of steam pipes were painted with the help of a bevy of local painters. Running through the list is akin to reading a Who’s Who of Alaskan artists: Lucas Elliott, Kate Wood, Karen Austen, Nikki Kinne, Iris Sutton and David Hayden.
On Second Avenue, one can even find art on the sidewalks. This summer, colorful blue and yellow wayfinding signage was installed near SpringHill Suites. At your feet, near Noble, you will find storm drain awareness art from the Tanana Valley Watershed Association. These steam pipes, storm drains and wayfinding signs are proof that form and function can coexist wonderfully.
Fairbanks also loves its murals and downtown is home to several. One mural, painted by Erik Holland and showcasing an Alaskan landscape, covers the outside of the Lathrop Building. Another, on the outside of the Elbow Room, was painted by Mark Leon and portrays a pair of brightly colored birds.
There are even glimpses of Fairbanks’ long-running artistic proclivities along Second Avenue. Neon signs atop the Elbow Room and the Lacey Street Theatre offer hints to the cities historic, colorful past. Until this summer, there was even a neon sign atop the Mecca Bar.
The thing about art is that it’s everywhere. No matter where you look, whether it be inside a gallery or at the building the gallery is housed in, you will find art. In a city like Fairbanks, a heady mix of hardscrabble and high-culture, even something quirky like a steam pipe has artistic value. Through the eye of the artist, everything is a potential canvas and everything is art.