Strengthening the arts
Arts revival, Alaska style
- United States Artists
- ArtPlace America
- Alaska State Council on the Arts
- Museums Alaska
Arts and Culture Initiative partners
Back in the early 2000s, Alaska artists — and art organizations — were hurting. Oil prices had crashed, the pipeline boom was long over, and spending on the arts was in steep decline. Rasmuson Foundation, with a deep family history of supporting arts, wanted to invest with impact. Staff members researched leading ideas around the country. In April 2003, the Foundation gathered key people in its board room, gave them piles of play money, and asked how to spend it. Artists, gallery owners and heads of art organizations agonized as if they were deciding Alaska’s art future. In a sense, they were.
From that convening, the Foundation’s $20 million, 10-year Arts and Culture Initiative emerged. We launched programs now embedded in the Foundation’s DNA that were markedly different from familiar capital grants. Participants had lots of ideas including this recurring theme: The best way to ensure the vibrancy of the arts would be to put money directly into the hands of artists. “This was stepping out of that comfort zone to engage directly with those who provide those services,” said Ira Perman, who facilitated the arts gathering and now heads Atwood Foundation, a close partner.
The very next year, our Individual Artist Awards started as a way to recognize, reward and encourage creative excellence with three levels of awards for Alaskans. The artist awards stand out as a marquee program of the Foundation.
The initiative sought to strengthen every aspect of the arts. Newspaper headlines highlighted Foundation hopes: “Funding Creativity.” “A great revival.” “A shot in the arts.” Organizations found new support for creative work. Funding for museums to buy artwork from living Alaska artists was solidified. Grants went for artist residencies in schools and development of arts leaders. We were one of the founding funders of ArtPlace, which uses art as a path to community development, as well as United States Artists, a national organization that awards $50,000 artist fellowships. So far, 13 Alaskans have been recipients including Allison Akootchook Warden this year and Sonya Kelliher-Combs last year.
“The ripple effect of the Arts and Culture Initiative has resulted in a wealth of support for arts and culture organizations at levels that did not exist prior,” said Andrea Noble-Pelant, executive director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. “Our Alaska groups have become stronger through innovative leadership, organizational transformation, relevant visioning and meaningful partnerships.”