Brendan Harrington’s painting “Self Portrait with Lancet Fish.”

According to a health mandate released by Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week, museums in Alaska could begin reopening last Friday, as long as social distancing is observed. But Kodiak museums remain closed.

Kodiak History Museum Executive Director Sarah Harrington said she is working closely with the Alutiiq Museum to determine when and how to safely reopen museums in Kodiak. 

“We’ve had some staff changes. More than half our staff are working mothers whose availability for working from home has been significantly impacted by having our kids at home,” Harrington said during a phone call, pausing occasionally to speak to her child.

Harrington said the museum has only two employees who don’t need to stay at home with their kids.

“That puts a lot of strain on our crew,” she said. That, coupled with the lack of tourists in Kodiak and a cruise ship season that is down to half a dozen ships, means added challenges for reopening the museum.

Harrington said she’s anticipating $90,000 in revenue losses from summer admissions alone. That will impact the museum’s ability to cover personnel, supplies, contracts and communication, among other costs.

“We’re just nipping our budget, and will move forward with a quarterly approach, looking for red flags,” she said. “We feel pretty lucky to be in a position that we’re not dependent on admissions. So we can decide when it’s safe to open.”

The museum is sustained through an endowment, financial support from the city of Kodiak and grant funding. Harrington said they will also seek grant funds available to museums through the CARES Act. 

“Our priority is safety for our team, our patrons and our community,” Harrington said. “We’re really focused on adapting our programming so we can continue to serve the community in a distance format, rather than asking them to come into our space.”

For the History Museum, that meant adapting a mindfulness exhibit to an online format. The museum partnered with locals Monica Claridge and Zoya Herrnsteen to create a new temporary exhibit that explores the concept of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Mindfulness practices are important as ever during this pandemic and uncertain time,” according to a news release from the museum. “As we all are adapting to new ways of living during the pandemic, digitally learning and sharing mindfulness practices may aid in this process.”

The connection between mindfulness and Kodiak history may seem unlikely at first, but Harrington said mindfulness can be used as a lens through which to examine the island’s history.

“The topic just couldn’t be more relevant in terms of helping people interpreting what’s happening right now, which is hugely historic,” she said. 

Originally scheduled to open at the Kodiak History Museum this month, the exhibit was adapted by museum staff to be shared digitally while the gallery is closed. The digital exhibit launched May 5. 

Visitors will be able to explore the exhibit on the museum website, engage in mindfulness activities, share experiences and gain access to more resources about mindfulness and its benefits. 

Mindfulness is “taking that pause, taking that breath. A slowing down, appreciation as you go through your day," Herrnsteen said.

Herrnsteen and Claridge practice mindfulness in their everyday lives, as well as in their professions of teaching and physical therapy.

“We see the desire in Kodiak for people to come together who already practice mindfulness and for other people to be exposed to mindfulness,” Claridge said.

Harrington said the mindfulness exhibit is part of the museum’s effort to put on exhibits based on needs identified by the community.

“We’re flipping that script — what do you want to learn about? What’s meaningful to you?” she said. “It’s contributed a lot to our educational programming in getting different people involved, building an exhibit for the community by the community.”

The exhibit will include community events through Zoom, an online platform. The “Community Sits” with Claridge are scheduled on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. during the month of May. In addition, a “Mindful Morning” is scheduled on May 23 at 10:30 a.m. More information can be found on the museum website. 

In addition to the exhibit, the museum recently acquired new artwork by local artist Brendan Harrington, “Self Portrait with Lancet Fish.” An immersive, almost life-sized canvas, the painting is a self-portrait of the artist tossing a fish into ocean waves. 

Harrington lives and works as a fisherman in Kodiak. He received a BFA in painting from the Glasgow School of Art in 2003 and has shown his work in multiple galleries since 2005. He was a Rasmuson Foundation Artist’s Fellowship recipient in 2012 and his most recent art showing was in a 2019 group exhibition, “Drawn Alaska,” in Anchorage. 

The acquisition was made possible by a grant from Museums Alaska, with support from the Rasmuson Foundation.

“The imagery comes from an event that I witnessed on a beach in the Aleutian Islands, when I came across a number of lancet fish which were dying in the shallow water and the suft,” Harrington said.

“I remember that they had skin like dolphins and a raised ridge of a lateral line running down their sides, and that they tried to bite at my hand when I picked up the ones that were rolling in the surf to try to toss them out into the deeper water. I just remember thinking that it was a shame that the first time I was seeing a new and interesting species of fish, that they were all dying, writhing in the water and mostly at the mercy of the surge coming into the beach from the deeper ocean.”

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