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Sarah Palin and the Arts in Alaska

"Wasilla Welcomes You" sign from Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. (via Bigstockphoto.com)

CHICAGO — The LA Times reported on February 20 that there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about a public sculpture in Wasilla, Alaska, the town that will forever be associated with ex-mayor of Wasilla and former half-term governor Sarah Palin.

You are probably now reading the second paragraph of this article for the same reason I read the LA Times article: anything with the words “Sarah Palin” in it is a magnet for the eyes, even when you loathe everything about John McCain’s 2008 presidential running mate. But it turns out that the story has absolutely nothing to do with Sarah Palin, though there is a common thread: a bunch of equally small-minded Wasilla-ites have objected to a work by artists Jim Dault and Shala Dobson, installed not so long ago at Wasilla high school, that allegedly has an, ahem, somewhat feminine looking aperture.

I thought I would ask someone in Alaska what they think of this furore, and of how Alaskans in general perceive Palin-mania. Writer Katey Schultz, who has just completed a residency program at the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, told me:

“I haven’t head anyone here in Alaska mention a darn thing about the report in the LA Times and didn’t know about it myself until I saw someone link it on Facebook.”

Surely, I asked in desperation, there must be some Palin connection here that you can think of?

“The only thing I’ve heard people say about Palin is that she’s one more stereotype Alaskans have to deal with now when they travel ‘outside’ (meaning the lower 48) or especially if they travel abroad. So many cultures are fascinated with The Last Frontier (and rightfully so!), that Alaskans who travel often get asked about a) bears, b) guns, and now, c) Palin. Every Alaskan I’ve met loathes the connection to Palin because she doesn’t represent the diversity of the state.”

Schultz kept a blog during her writer-in-residence stay, which provided plenty of evidence that other parts of Alaska are committed to the arts, and that Alaska is the same as any other US state: some people will see vaginas in anything, and some will promote the arts as a vital part of community life.

Schultz mentioned one thing to me that you won’t see anywhere else but Anchorage:

“There are I Can See Russia From My House sweatshirts lining all the tourist shops along 4th Avenue downtown.”

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Top image via BigStock
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