Art and culture in Mountain View

For more than 10 years, the idea of a Mountain View art and cultural district has remained a dream.

The neighborhood has seen plans to develop opera and theater performance and rehearsal space, galleries and an art center. So far, few have materialized.

Cedar Cussins, a freelance lighting designer who lives on Mumford Street, said she’s watched the neighborhood grow around her for nearly a decade. When it comes to developing an arts and culture district in Mountain View, she has a few ideas.

“It has to come organically,” Cussins said.

In 2003, a Mountain View in Motion report by Anchorage Neighborhood Housing Services described plans for an arts and cultural quarter that included an amphitheater, Hispanic cultural center and town square. Development concepts for a property known as the Wilhour Trust — near the intersection of Mountain View and Commercial Drive — were especially innovative.

There was a multipurpose center with rehearsal space and a 99-seat theater for the Anchorage Opera and the Alaska Dance Theatre. There was retail space for music stores and art supply shops, gallery space, restaurants, cafes, studios and residential lofts.

When Cussins moved to Mountain View in 2006, those projects were supposed to be nearly complete. They weren’t.

A Talkeetna native, Cussins said she moved to the neighborhood with her husband in time to see Glenn Square open its doors and new housing popping up across Mountain View.

“And then we hit the recession and everything just slumped,”  Cussins said.

Glenn Square storefronts remained vacant. A few miles away and a few years later, Tikahtnu Commons seemed to steal the commercial thunder. Mountain View never got a Best Buy.

There have been many developments since then: The Alaska Museum of Science and Nature is a spot of color on N. Bragaw Street, a new Special Olympics center opened its doors to much fanfare March 8 and Bass Pro Shops is nearing completion on a 100,000-square-foot store in Glenn Square. But the planned arts and cultural district never really got off the ground.

Cussins said she believes the effort needs to begin at a different level. It can’t be forced. It should be rooted in Mountain View’s famed cultural diversity, she said, and help break down walls between neighbors.

She liked the idea of summer block parties, and the miniature neighborhood libraries popping up in other parts of Anchorage.

“I think it would be awesome to see something like that start happening in Mountain View because the content of them can be anything, right?” Cussins said. “So I think it would be a chance for residents to share culture and language.”

But after nearly 10 years in the neighborhood, she said she’s not sure if she wants to wait much longer. She and her husband now have a 2-year-old son, and she said she wants him to grow up with a tree house in the yard and more room to run.

“Now, it’s like, I see Bass Pro going in, and I see the Special Olympics place, and my brain wants to say, ‘Well, maybe, no, wait,’” Cussins said, wondering if the momentum will carry. “But you never really know, you know? Are we going to wait another eight years? And what’s our son going to be doing in the process?”

 

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