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Francine Conat Lastufka Taylor

Photo of Francine Conat Lastufka Taylor
1937
Categories: 2014 Alumnae, Advocacy, Art, Culture, History

Biography

Born in California in 1937 to a French Canadian father, Francis Conat, and a French and Spanish Mexican mother, Maria Magdalena Bustos, Francine Lastufka Taylor moved to Alaska with Chuck Lastufka, her new husband in 1961. Although her mother was a traditional over-protective Hispanic parent, her father and her husband were adventurous master hunters and fishermen. Francine learned outdoor survival skills and independence from them. When left alone much of the time by a husband who traveled frequently with his job, she sought ways to meet people and share her talents with her new state. In 1961 she volunteered at the Alaska Crippled Children’s Association before the Anchorage School District mainstreamed disabled children into schools throughout the district. Aside from its medical and physical therapy services, it ran its own elementary school. From this experience she learned a great deal about disabilities that later helped her when two of her own children and two of her grandchildren were discovered to have dyslexia.

As a musician she recognized the Association needed a music program for the children and the hard-working staff. Every Friday at the end of a physically and emotionally exhausting week, she did a musical activity and sing-along program. This program was such a hit that the Anchorage School District — with no money for art resource teachers — asked her and other local artists to volunteer their artistic talents to elementary schools throughout the Anchorage district. Taylor said she believes people need to be “lifted up and that is what music does”. An accomplished pianist and singer, Taylor immersed herself in the Anchorage arts scene joining the Anchorage Opera, the Anchorage Community Chorus, Anchorage Chamber Singers, and the Alaska Festival of Music along with other musical groups.

In the late 1960s Mike Gravel threw his hat into the race as a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alaska. Taylor joined his campaign team as a volunteer and traveled to remote villages across the state, seeing first-hand the Alaska Native cultures and learning that many village economies depended, to some extent, on income from crafts. “I saw that often the only cash going into a small village came from the sale of baskets, carvings and skin sewing,” she said. A campaign film about Gravel was created during his campaign, and Taylor became intrigued by the power of compelling sound and moving images, seeing how — in the hands of talented, astute political consultants and film makers — they could significantly influence voters. She believed that if this medium could teach and influence voters, it could also be a compelling, powerful instructional tool for educators. This medium, film, was to become one of the great loves of her life.

As a result, Francine enrolled in the University of Alaska Anchorage as a journalism student, at a time in which there was no journalism degree offered. She cobbled together an inter-disciplinary program and eventually became the first Communications graduate of the school. Her studies at the university led to an invitation by the legendary Kay Fanning of the Anchorage Daily News to write a television column for the paper, which she did, joining three other columnists – Steve Cowper, a future Alaska governor at that time, Satch Carlson, and Mr. Whitekeys. Taylor also took advantage of a visitor to Alaska, the highly respected Margaret Mehring, author and director of Filmic writing at the University of Southern California, School of Education. She talked Mehring into designing an instructional design, screen-writing, and production program for her and staff at UAA TV production services where she was working. Mehring compressed an eight-hour-a-day program on the production of features and documentaries. Some years later in Ohio where her second husband, Richard Taylor, was working on his doctorate, she took graduate courses on instructional design and evaluation systems at the University of Toledo (Ohio).

A close friend over the years and another early television personality in Alaska, Beverly Michaels Dubie, said Taylor has great foresight and, once she has set her sights on a goal, pursues that goal with great personal investment. “When she approaches her projects, it’s in a very human way,” Dubie said. “It’s easier to gather the information and put it out, but Fran really probes to find the human story behind any topic. That makes the difference between a piece that is technically good and one that moves you.”

Taylor’s love of video and other media led her to the realization in the late 1980s that Alaska’s historic moving images and audio recordings would soon be irretrievably lost to future generations unless someone stepped up to help preserve them. Bringing what Dubie calls “her infectious enthusiasm and optimism” to that leadership role, Taylor created the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association in 1991. “AMIPA was very forward-thinking, even on a national level,” AMIPA’s archivist Kevin Tripp said. “And Francine was pivotal in the organization’s formation. She is a real presence, a force of nature. She has convinced me things could be done that I’d thought were impossible.”

Through Taylor’s connections and energy, funding for AMIPA grew until the organization became a reality. Today, AMIPA has gone from an all volunteer staff to one with paid curatorial, technical and administrative staff. In September 2004, AMIPA entered into a preservation partnership with the UAA/APU Consortium Library and during the spring of 2005 installed its then 17,000-item collection, dating from the 1920s, into modern film and magnetic media vaults adjacent to the office space. The vaults have temperature and humidity-control, air filtration, and a high level of security. Today, important events in Alaska’s history, such as statehood, the 1964 earthquake, pipeline construction, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and a wide range of others are preserved and available to the public.

With all she’s done in the realm of film over the years, Taylor also found time to help preserve and elevate the visibility and importance of Alaska’s Native arts and crafts. Taylor was the first director of the Alaska Native Arts Festival which ran as part of the Festival of Music for six years. Taylor said she had no knowledge of the destructive programs of the federal government and missionaries in taking away Alaska Native cultural practices. “For the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and government,” she said, “it was to make them better American citizens. For the religious, it was about converting them to Christianity.”

When the Alaska Festival of Music began, Taylor challenged festival staff about the exclusion of Alaska’s indigenous peoples with their rich cultural traditions of song, dance, storytelling, arts and crafts. The staff turned the challenge back to Francine asking her to bring in the Native culture she championed. “I had a difficult time finding artists, dancers and storytellers because we were down to our last Attu basket maker, Anfesia Shepsinikov, and had only a couple of baleen basket makers in Barrow,” Taylor said. Fortunately, however, a group of King Island dancers had settled in Anchorage and they became the central performers for their culture at the festival.

Taylor said the King Islanders were lucky that the Jesuit priests, particularly Father Hubbard, the “Glacier Priest”, celebrated the Native culture and collected much of the art work that was being produced. Preserving this collection, along with a collection of work at UAA became Taylor’s first task in establishing AMIPA.

When Taylor’s second husband was production manager at UAA’s production facility, one of his goals, and Taylor’s as well, became preserving what had been the dying culture of Alaska’s Native people on sound and moving images. They produced the first statewide broadcasts of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, the Alaska Native Arts Festival and individual storytellers, artists, historical and cultural traditions and subsistence lifestyles of Alaska Natives. “It was the first time Alaska’s Native people saw themselves on statewide television broadcasts,” Taylor added.

In 1972 and working with Visual Arts Center Founder George Federoff, she became one of the founding directors of the Visual Arts Center, serving for 15 years of its 20 years of existence. “Francine helped provide a means for Alaska Native artists and craftspeople to showcase and sell their work,” Irene Rowan, a former president of Klukwan, Inc. and now a director of Northrim Bank, said. As well as working to promote these arts and crafts, Taylor also came to understand the value of cinematography in cultural preservation. “It was this realization that steeled her determination to help make sure that Alaska’s history and our culture would live forever on film,” Rowan added.

For all that Taylor has contributed to Alaska, she has been recognized as a finalist for the National Federation of Press Women, Communicator of Achievement Award in 1998. She won the Alaska Press Women’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and was a finalist for the YWCA/BP Women of Achievement Award in 1996. Today, Taylor owns Taylor Productions and produces documentaries for and about Alaska. She also provides voice for television and radio advertising.

She is mother to her natural daughter Marta Lastufka Bucy, and mother-in-law to Michael Bucy, adopted son Carlos Lastufka, stepmother to Anna and Andrew Taylor, and grandmother to Anna’s children Corvin Zaochney and David Drost.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/RMdSc5fXefM