Sitka Spring Keynote speaker Walter Kidundu
"I think a lot of what makes someone an artist is the fact that they have given themselves permission," spring keynote speaker Walter Kitundu offers at the start of his May talk, "...to be in this space where they are navigating the transformation from what is imagined to what is real."
Kitundu's imagination is fertile.
From wind and ocean-powered musical instruments to climate mitigation awards containing suspended bubbles of ancient ice core-harvested air to volcanic lava-forged records preserving Indigenous stories and songs, Kitundu challenges assumptions about our relationship with nature and what is possible.
"A process I do when I teach my sculpture students is to ask them to write a proposal for an impossible project. They have to propose something that is clearly impossible, but then they have to write a budget for it, do renderings, do a maintenance schedule," Kitundu shares, explaining that coming up with a truly impossible idea can be harder than it sounds. "They run up against the threshold of impossibility and sometimes settle on things that are just very hard to do. Then we try to figure it out. Can we make it socially impossible, or physically impossible, or financially impossible? What are the things that we can do that actually trip it into impossibility? As we navigate this for a while, I find that students' sense of what's possible expands."
As Kitundu speaks, I feel new light filtering in and photosynthesizing into fresh energy in my current thinking about Sitka and our Youth Program. How can we grow to reach more rural and underserved kids while keeping our footprint small? What are the barriers in the way of more young Oregonians having access to art and nature, and how can Sitka help to remove them? Who within the Sitka community might be interested in learning more about and supporting this work?
At the end of Kitundu's talk, we discuss the importance of art access and his own journey as a young artist.
"I was an artist from the beginning thanks to my mom," Kidundu shares, offering gratitude for her and for how being an artist allows him to unapologetically explore and integrate diverse interests. "I dabbled in music, DJing, birding, kite flying, engineering. I feel really grateful that I've always seen this as my practice."
Today, however, all too often art exists on the un- or underfunded margins of education. According to the Oregon Department of Education's Well-Rounded Access Program Needs Assessment, "Students in rural communities have significantly less access to arts courses in their public schools than other student groups, with 45% of elementary students in rural communities attending a school without a standalone course in any arts discipline."
"It's important to remember that this is never taught in school," Kitundu cautions, reflecting on art, interdisciplinary practice and the harm that is done when young people do not have time, space or encouragement to explore creatively. "I think there's a fear that somehow art is a distraction... but I found that every time I've felt that I was being distracted, it was just my imagination trying to tell me something. Every time I've done that, I've ended up back at the thing that I was doing, better for it."
Kitundu's call to action to take art making and our innate curiosity at once seriously and playfully is perfectly timed as Sitka's 2023 workshop season commences today. What I love most about our instructors and team is how at ease they help Sitka's workshop participants feel. Last summer, one participant expressed it this way:
"Sitka is one of the very best resources on the beautiful Oregon coast, not just for artists, but for anyone who has wondered what to do with that spark of creativity within."
Sitka's full Spring Keynote with Walter Kitundu is available to view online, along with all of Sitka's recent resident talks and keynotes.
If you would like to have a conversation with me about the future of Sitka's Youth Program and how you can help support our work to expand art and nature access to more kids and schools, I welcome your outreach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-994-5485.
Our 2023 Workshop Season begins today. May it invite you into a deeper relationship with the natural world and awaken the boundless potential of your own creative spirit.