Rasmuson Foundation was looking for a Program Officer eight years ago. We hoped for someone with some expertise in either arts or health, two of our major interest areas.
Central casting sent us Jayson Smart. He had cred in arts AND health. He came to us from the Muni health department, where he served as deputy director, but had been active in the arts for many years. He’s a closet singer and composer too. Fortunately for Alaska, but so bittersweet for me and Rasmuson Foundation, Jayson will soon assume the arts leadership for our good friend and partner, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, based in Minnesota. They are an active funder in the arts and other areas in Alaska. So we can count on many visits from Jayson.
When I reflect on Jayson’s contributions to Alaska through his work at Rasmuson Foundation, I see a reach that is staggering. He’s been a champion of Alaska artists, growing and developing our support and greatly increasing the impact and recognition for individual artists who receive awards. He created new arts opportunities like the New Pathways program for arts organizations and our residency exchange program involving arts organizations in Alaska and the lower 48. He designed and oversaw a magnificent celebration of the Foundation’s 60th anniversary, including a traveling arts exhibit and catalog. He initiated a conservation program for museums. He was our key man in relationships with national arts foundations in the implementation of creative placemaking, helping communities strengthen themselves with art and culture, through ArtPlace and in support of artists through the United States Artists fellowship program. Before such an approach became popular, he worked with peers around the country to examine diversity and inclusion issues in arts grantmaking. He was a leader and championed everything from disability services to libraries to health clinics. Swimming pools, shelters — anything that would enhance community vitality. He was 100 percent aligned with the Rasmuson Foundation mission, greatly admired and loved
by his colleagues, a team player in every respect, a cheerleader, mentor and friend.
Mostly, Jayson is a very good man. Compassionate, warm, accessible, respectful. I will miss him immensely and I know so many others share in the mixed feelings of loss and gratitude. It’s hard to imagine we won’t see him every day. We are thankful that he’s found a new challenge that will have great impact on our state, and bring him home often in the future.