Bethel-raised Yup’ik artist Qacung Blanchett receives two big national awards

A portrait of a man standing outside in a parka
Bethel-raised musician Stephen Qacung Blanchett was recently named a 2022 United States Artists Fellow, as well as one of the Kennedy Center’s 50 for the Next 50. (Photo by Konrad Frank/Courtesy of Qacung Blanchett)

Bethel-raised musician and Pamyua frontman Stephen Qacung Blanchett has been creating music for almost three decades, but 2022 may be his biggest year yet. The Yup’ik culture-bearer and multi-disciplinary artist has received two national honors. Last week, he was named a 2022 United States Artists Fellow.

“It’s a big honor for me,” said Blanchett, who now lives in Juneau. “Because we have folks that are just really doing amazing things for their communities. And for me to get this recognition, I’m so honored.”

Blanchett was one of 63 artists selected for the fellowship. Each recipient is nominated anonymously by fellow artists, and Blanchett said that he has nothing but gratitude for whoever nominated him. Each of the artists is awarded $50,000 to spend however they want, and they’ll get financial planning assistance to help them.

“Artists are really good at our craft and our practices, but we’re not really that good at finance. Finances are the one of the things you don’t want to deal with. And so for them to do this and support us artists with this type of money, it’s crazy,” Blanchett said.

This recognition comes after years of hard work. In 2021, Blanchett released another album with his band Pamyua, headlined and organized a fully-Indigenous music festival, and still found time to put out his first solo album.

An album cover
Stephen Qacung Blanchett’s first solo-album, Qacung Miu, was released last summer.

“I did work on a solo project called Qacung Miu, you know, place from which you come from, like Memterilluk-miu,” Blanchett explained.

On the album, Blanchett collaborates with numerous Native artists to tell the stories of Alaska Natives. Like his song “Our Stories” featuring Toksook Bay’s Byron Nicholai.

His hard work over the past year has also gained Qacung another national honor. For its 50th anniversary, the Kennedy Center named 50 multi-disciplinary leaders in art, education and athletics. Qacung is on the list for his work as a performing artist, culture-bearer, educator, and advocate for equity and inclusion.

“So they named 50 artists across the nation who are just kind of doing community doers work, right?” said Blanchett. “So to be named in that cohort is, like, crazy. It’s like this whole wide range of artists.”

The 50 honorees will work with the Kennedy Center to lead discussions and educational programming. The goal is to ensure that artists and cultural leaders have a say in shaping the future.

For Blanchett, the chance to be in the room with some of the country’s most influential and groundbreaking artists through his work with the Kennedy Center could mean the chance for some pretty cool collaborations.

“Sometimes when you get people together in a room, it’s amazing the type of things that can come out of it. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what works more with the Kennedy Center and seeing where that can go,” Blanchett said.

Among the group are some familiar names, such as World Cup champion and co-captain of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team Megan Rapinoe and 2021 Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman.

But before focusing on these national honors, Blanchett will be wrapping up a project closer to home. This one, the Old Harbor Fellowship, is designed to keep Native music and dance alive in Alaska.

“I’m headed off to Kodiak to work with seven representatives from the seven villages on Kodiak to create music, create dance, compose and choreograph dances,” Blanchett said.

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