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  • Writer's pictureKarl Sander

Reflections on North by North

Over the weekend of the 27th, 28th, and 29th of April, I had the chance to attend the second annual North by North Festival and Summit. More than once, I heard that it was inspired, at least in part, by Austin’s South by Southwest. Almost everything I know about the Texan version I’ve learned from listening to Tim Ferriss, so I can’t make a direct comparison. I will, however, note that SXSW attracts thousands of attendees over a 10 day period, while NxN brought probably three or four hundred attendees over 3 or 4 days. Then again, SXSW has been around for thirty years and addresses an expansive array of topics. Nevertheless, NxN follows a similar template, with talks and panels, film, food, and music. Like its scale, its focus is smaller and closer to home: the challenges and opportunities in the North. Presided over by the Institute of the North’s Executive Director Nils Andreassen and hosted by Anchorage Museum Director Julie Decker, most of the attendees were from the eight Arctic nations: the United States, Canada, Denmark (which maintains sovereignty over Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Additional attendees came from further afield, with a total of fifteen countries being represented. The goals included fostering innovation to facilitate sustainable development and healthy communities. This included ways to promote healthy communities in the face of the continuing legacy of historical and inter-generational trauma. There was also a focus on community resiliency in the face of a changing Arctic. But it was also a celebration of northern cultures - including a panel on why Norway always seems to rank so high in world happiness rankings; spoiler alert - it’s not because of lutefisk. There was music from Alaska, Greenland, and Finland, as well as an Arctic-inspired food festival and Circumpolar Film Festival. Two of my favorites from the latter included a film about trying to preserve the Alutiiq language in Kodiak and a Finnish movie that’s part documentary, part family tribute telling the forty year story - from the end of WWII to the mid-198s - of electrifying Lapland. The festival unapologetically - and rightly - announces it is for the North, organized by Northerners. I can’t help but think that “We the North” would have been a great slogan if it hadn’t been misappropriated by a couple of Toronto’s sports teams (never mind that Seattle, Portland, and the Twin Cities are all farther north than Toronto, but I digress). I had first learned about the festival through fellow members of the Boardroom, the coworking space I’d been using. Upon learning that I was a freelance writer, one of the proprietors of Toast of the Town - a local event management company - suggested the festival would be a good thing for me to check out. See, coworking is excellent for networking. I went with some hope of prospecting for potential clients, and while that wasn’t quite as fruitful as I’d hoped, I still got to meet some fascinating people - and besides, I’m coming to learn that in the world of professional writing, sometimes networking is a long game. More immediately rewarding, though, were some of the ideas and stories I was exposed to. I have an Evernote folder full of ideas for future posts (so, you’ve got that to look forward to). Since it was hosted at the museum, I also had a chance to check out the new Unsettled exhibit - which, as someone who’s been increasingly thinking more of the “Greater West” than traditional political boundaries, I found both fascinating and challenging. Amazingly, I somehow managed to get out of the three days only having bought one book - and that because the author was signing it. My Goodreads “Want to Read” list may or may not have grown by about a dozen, though. Lastly, as a celebration of the North, it was timely for me as I prepare to head back down south (but still farther north than Toronto). Even while staring down the challenges the region and its people face, it felt good to embrace what was special about it, the things that the people who chose to live here love about it. The experience was a fitting and fulfilling way to begin to conclude my time living up here. I hope to attend another one - maybe even once again as a local.

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