John Sinnok is AAEC’s Champion of the Arts from the Arctic Region. John’s students have entered carvings and sewing in the Heard Museum All Native Student Art and Sale arts show in Phoenix, Arizona every year for the last 10 years and his students consistently win 26 to 30 ribbons, sell their artwork, and come home with prize money and awards for the excellence and beauty of their work. They may be the only students representing Alaska at this great event, which takes place each April. Many of John’s students subsequently receive $1000 scholarships, renewable with high enough GPAs, from the Heard Museum when they seek continuing education after high school. Several students from his classes have been selected among the top ten artists in the art show and have been invited to attend one-week art classes at Arizona State University with all expenses paid except travel.
John expresses his view of the impact of his program on the arts in education in Alaska when he states that students’ self esteem improves through their success with their artwork, and it transfers to a higher success rate in all other subjects. John faces challenges to his program as his classes are given low priority against No Child Left Behind mandates that force students into other classes other than trades or arts. John himself has been invited to a gallery in Chicago—the first Alaska Native to be invited—to demonstrate and show his work, but he declined. He doesn’t want to be away from teaching his students. His dedication, resourcefulness, selflessness and consummate ability as both an instructor and artist are clear. John sets a high bar for the quality of work he expects from his students, and he has sustained his program at the Shishmaref School for over 40 years.
A significant number of residents in the community of Shishmaref make and sell crafts as a result of John’s instruction at the school. Shishmaref is recognized as a village that produces the highest quality crafts and still carries on the traditional Inupiat lifestyle. Their development as artists over time allows them to contribute to their artistic cultural heritage. This past year John was recognized by the Traditional Native Council, the IRA Council, for his work in contributing to the carrying on of the culture through his work at the school and in the community. This humble champion has accomplished all those things while being legally blind from a snow machine accident in 1985.