Skagway School kids run and jump and play for the camera inside a huge inflated salmon that was part of the “Voices in the Wind” presentation at the school on Sept. 16. The salmon sustained some damage before en route to Skagway, but local resident Chris Maggio came to its rescue with duct tape so it could stay inflated. The multi-faceted, interactive event emphasized the arts as the mode of expression for raising awareness about climate change.

Voices in the Windy City

Story and Photos by Jeff Brady

More than 100 Skagway residents turned out to participate in the “Voice in the Wind” project with producer Greg Heming last week to bring attention to climate change through the arts.
The event had an improvised feel about it – walking into the gym, one observed tables of local art and student projects made from recycled materials, a long “Save our Water” mural for people to attach signed messages to, and a huge, colorful blown-up salmon that kids were playing around.
School music director David LeCompte was playing a sax in one corner, and local videographers Niki Bunting and Paul Murray showed a film of Fourth of July and other summer shots on the big screen.
Then Skagway Arts Council president Dottie Demark gathered everyone into the Elma McMillan Room and introduced Hemming.
The small, soft-spoken man from Nelson, British Columbia is one of the co-founders of the project, whose focal point is a sailing expedition around the continent.
Heming said the way to draw attention to climate change – whether is is human-caused or a natural phenomena – is to make everyone aware of it through the arts, not politics. He said arts evoke feelings in everyone, and that’s the direction the movement needs to take to raise consciousness about the need to change our way of life.
He quoted Einstein, who said there are three keys to a good life: “beauty, simplicity and playfulness.” Applying this to the “Voice in the Wind” project, they have brought in community arts groups at every stop on the tour, from the starting point in Norway, across to Iceland and Greenland, and the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic. The vessel is currently sailing between Barrow and Dutch Harbor, and will hit Sitka for a major performance in mid-October.
Heming has been off the boat for a while on a tour of other spots in the Yukon, B.C. and Alaska. He said the reception in Skagway, especially from the arts council and school, was one of the best he had seen.
Heming showed slides from the first days of the sailing, then turned it over to elementary school kids who sang “This Land is Your Land” and songs about habitat and air. Then the DDF performed a piece called “Goodbye Polar Bears” which ended with a debate on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Another film by Dixie Belcher and Lee Harris of Juneau showed the horrible consequences to wildlife of plastic bags and urged people to stop using them.
Local musicians Kathy Wassman and Candace Cahill finished off the evening with the song, “Wade in the Water.” Heming said there is an urgency about climate change, and focusing on the “Now.” He closed on a positive note, saying he was encouraged by a recent study that showed people are getting the message. “One million people a day are doing something,” he said.
After this evening, Skagway added several more to the list.

Clockwise from top left: Greg Heming talks about how the arts can communicate the need to address climate change; visitors check out some of the art made by students and community members from recycled materials with the big salmon in the background; elementary children sing about CO2 and trees; Kathy Wassman and Candace Cahill sing the spiritual “Wade in the Water”; and new foreign exchange student Alini Jashiki jumps right into the ANWR debate with other members of the DDF team.