SJ Campus is Home to First Sitka Fellows
by Shannon Haugland, Sentinel Staff Writer
One of the new programs on the Sheldon Jackson campus this summer offers a select group of under-30 achievers the space and time to develop innovative and ambitious ideas.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for young people with big dreams,” said Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, one of the founders of the new Sitka Fellows program and a volunteer for the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, which sponsors the program.
Kreiss-Tomkins, a veteran of many fine arts camp sessions during his school years in Sitka, dreamed up the fellows program with his friend Julie Zhu during their senior year at Yale University.
The eight men and women who are taking part in the seven-week residency program were chosen from about 40 applicants in their 20s from all over the U.S.
From mid-July to the end of August the fellows live at Sweetland Hall, the main SJ dormitory. They have offices and studios in the Yaw Art Center, where they are free to work on their various projects, collaborate with each other and get involved in the community.
Part of the program is the assignment of each participant to a local family for off-hour socializing and creation of a connection with the community.
“It’s working out wonderfully,” Kreiss-Tomkins said Friday in his assessment of the program, now in its third week.
The first Sitka Fellows are Adam Horowitz, Amanda Murphyao, Andrew Lee, Camila Thorndike, Elisabeth Star, Pete Moran, Ross Perlin and Sam Alden. Over the next few weeks, the Sentinel will publish profiles of the fellows, who come from a variety of backgrounds in academia, business, art, design and literature. Their projects range from writing a book to starting a nonprofit organization or finishing work on a dissertation.
The Sitka Fellows Program steering committee agreed that the program should be open to all disciplines, seeking those who have a “compelling project” they want to work on. Kreiss-Tomkins, who helped select them, said the eight were selected based on their experience and their projects.
“These are eight really incredible talents from across the country,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “They have huge potential and have demonstrated the ability to be effective.”
Kreiss-Tomkins said he realized the need for such a program such as this when he saw the enthusiastic response to his proposal when he put the word out, and the quality of the applications. Zhu said there are many residencies and fellowships available, but they are usually targeted at people who are experts in their fields.
“Young people aren’t given these opportunities,” Zhu said.
“It’s hard to carve out time and space and community to work on a project,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
The Sitka Fellows program is one of a number of endeavors Kreiss-Tomkins has been working on with Sitka Fine Arts Camp Executive Director Roger Schmidt.
Since Alaska Arts Southeast, parent organization of the fine arts camp, became owner of the SJ campus in early 2011, the camp has been expanding its programs to fill the time on both ends of the traditional summertime schedule of classes for middle school and high school age students. The camp now runs seven weeks, and this year added sessions for younger kids and adults. SFAC and other nonprofits now located on the campus would like to see the facilities busy all 12 months of the year.
“I was trying to think of ways to take advantage of the SJ campus,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “It’s sitting empty for a large portion of the year. We were thinking what programs we could bring that could take advantage of an incredible resource.”
Kreiss-Tomkins added that Sitka itself is an untapped resource.
“In theory, this program could exist anywhere,” he said. “But Sitka’s special. Sitka has a lot to offer the fellows.”
Kreiss-Tomkins hopes to secure funding to continue the program after this year, and to continue to enhance Sitka’s reputation as a cultural, artistic and intellectual center.
“My hope is that Sitka becomes a magnet for ideas and talent and business and organizations,” he said. “We think this program is going to be an incubator for new businesses and new nonprofits that are going to do really important things.”
Kreiss-Tomkins also worked on starting up TEDx Sitka – a program of inspirational talks – and recruited fellow students at Yale to serve as SFAC counselors and on work parties rehabilitating campus buildings.