Patricia Van Kirk: a brilliant leader, artist, teacher, and social activist

Patricia Van Kirk: a brilliant leader, artist, teacher, and social activist

“How did you first hear about Pride Foundation?”

Usually when I ask this question of our Alaskan donors, they tell me about their personal connection to one of our grantee organizations. So I was caught off guard when one of our supporters in Juneau began to tell me about a resident of Washington State named Patricia Van Kirk, her contributions to lesbian arts and culture in the Northwest, and  having first heard of Pride Foundation when she was asked to donate to a scholarship fund set up to honor Patricia’s legacy.

At the time, she had no idea that Pride Foundation had any connection to Alaska.

I was curious to know more. Who was Patricia Van Kirk? What was her connection to Alaska? How many other Alaskans had been compelled to give because they were touched by her life?

These questions led me to a woman named Nikki Coyote of Whidbey Island, WA. Nikki was Patricia’s partner for 16 years. This year would have marked their 22nd anniversary. She told me a little about Patricia’s sudden death. But she also told me how Patricia lived.

Patricia believed that art could inspire social change. In the 1970s she started a progressive radio show in Juneau, “A Woman’s Prerogative,” featuring mostly women’s music that still airs twice a month on KTOO and is perhaps the longest running women’s radio show in the country.  When she moved to Seattle, Patricia founded one of the first lesbian theater groups in the country—Front Room Theater Guild—to give lesbians an opportunity to perform and view theater that openly acknowledged and celebrated their lives.

“Patricia was a brilliant leader, artist, teacher, and social activist who opened many hearts with her unique gifts,” Nikki said. “She loved deeply and was loved by everyone who knew her.”

Some weeks after Patricia died a friend suggested that they approach Pride Foundation for help in doing something to honor her life. The result: the Patricia Van Kirk Scholarship fund for lesbians studying visual or performing arts with an emphasis on social change: a perfect summary of Patricia’s life passion.  Between 2005 and 2006, friends from all over the country helped raise the money needed to endow the fund and ensure that her legacy will live on indefinitely.

At least six of those friends were from Alaska.

If you’ve done any travel between the Northwest states, you’ve probably discovered that despite how large our states are in size, our communities—especially our LGBTQ communities—are surprisingly interconnected. People move to Alaska from Montana, Oregon and Washington. Alaskans leave to attend college or graduate school in Missoula, Portland, and Seattle; and in doing so our lives, passions, and struggles intersect. It only makes sense that we could see these interconnections at work through people’s relationships to Pride Foundation.

Storme Webber, Artist and Pride Foundation Community Member

 

Case in point: A couple of summers ago during an extended stay in Seattle, I sat in on a poetry workshop taught by an interdisciplinary artist with Alaska Native/African-American roots. We connected over our mutual connection to Alaska. She showed me where to find tasty, cheap Mexican food and gave me the inside scoop on how to tap into Seattle’s LGBTQ community. I had no idea that just five months later I’d be hired by Pride Foundation, whose office I unknowingly walked past several times that summer, or that a conversation with a donor in Juneau would eventually lead me back to the same artist.

That artist, Storme Webber, was one of this year’s recipients of the Patricia Van Kirk Scholarship fund, once again showing how closely linked we are, and how the impact of a gift can ripple beyond our borders.

Tiffany McClain is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Alaska. Email Tiffany.

 

Posted In: Blog, Alaska, Blog, Connecting Leaders