We didn’t expect a year like the last one, or a January like we just experienced. We know the coming months will bring new challenges, but Alaskans always find a way through! I am pleased to share these highlights from our latest newsletter including a story on how Camp Fire’s rural Alaska program shifted during the pandemic.
— Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation
Prepping for tough budget talks
About 30 nonprofit leaders attended a recent virtual gathering we hosted in preparation for the 2021 legislative session. Larry Persily (former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue, among other positions) presented on the state’s budget conundrum while Cheryl Frasca (former budget director for both the State of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage) shared results of a recent poll facilitated by Commonwealth North on hot button topics like Permanent Fund Dividend payout levels, state spending amounts on education and infrastructure, and opinions on an income tax. Board member Mike Navarre facilitated the meeting. Of those polled, more favor some level of income or sales tax compared to those opposed completely to a statewide tax. Most want to keep PFDs at the same reduced level as last year, though a good number support suspending dividends until the state can afford them. Some meeting participants expressed interest in a workgroup focused on making sure the nonprofit community isn’t an afterthought amid pressing discussions.
Speaking of the legislative session, over the last few weeks, CEO Diane Kaplan and other Foundation leaders have continued meetings with newly elected legislators. No ask, just an opportunity to explain who we are and what we do. While all of them had heard of the Foundation, many didn’t know the extent of our grantmaking or the source of our funding.
In an earlier presentation by Persily to staff, Chairman Ed Rasmuson made an appearance. He noted that the governor’s proposal of two dividends this year would drain the Permanent Fund and likely necessitate a statewide tax.
He remembered when his father, Elmer, was appointed by then-Gov. Jay Hammond to be the first chair of the Permanent Fund board. Hammond wanted a dividend. Elmer didn’t. But the dividend was put into place, drawing from the Permanent Fund every year since 1982. “Therein lies the problem, right there,” Chairman Ed said.
Time for Alaskans to Pick.Click.Give.
The 2021 Pick.Click.Give. campaign is off to a good start. As of Jan. 28, 8,610 people had committed to donate part or all of their Permanent Fund dividend through Pick.Click.Give. That amounts to $927,250 through 15,750 pledges to Alaska nonprofits as PFD filings got underway. Donations are slightly behind last year’s level, but program managers expect to catch up soon. PFD applications are open through March 31 and Alaskans can add, remove or otherwise change donations through August.
Closing a chapter in experimental economics
IFREE, the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics founded by the brilliant economist Vernon L. Smith, will wrap up in 2022 under a provision in its charter to sunset after 25 years. Smith created the organization in 1997 and in 2002 donated his Nobel Prize money to IFREE. We supported the organization with a $100,000 award in 2017. The grant was in honor of his 90th birthday and in recognition of his support in realizing Elmer Rasmuson’s dream of establishing University of Alaska Anchorage as a center of economics excellence.
Smith was the inaugural UAA Distinguished Rasmuson Chair of Economics and established the experimental economics program at University of Alaska Anchorage with Professor Jim Murphy. Our board member, Curtis McQueen, chairs the advisory board for the UAA Rasmuson Chair of Economics. CEO Diane Kaplan serves on the IFREE board.
‘Silences so deep’
Pulitzer Prize winner, Grammy winner, U.S. Artist Fellow and 2010 Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist John Luther Adams recently published his new memoir “Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska.” It takes readers through his journey, starting from his youth and through the trip up north that changed his life. And it is getting lots of attention with stories on National Public Radio and in the Anchorage Daily News, and a Town Hall Seattle conversation with his former neighbor in the Fairbanks woods, Karen Michel.
At the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Adams managed a project to upgrade the Place Where You Go to Listen exhibit that was funded in 2019 by a Tier 2 grant of $119,250.
“I miss Alaska every day and can’t wait to get home again … hopefully sometime in the coming year. For now, I send warm, bright wishes in these dark days, to you and all my friends up there,” Adams told us recently.
Long-needed new building for Christian Health Associates
One of our close partners has closed on a new-to-them building, a relocation that has been planned for years. Christian Health Associates currently is in offices off Vanguard Drive slated to be demolished for a planned road improvement project. We recently intervened to help the Anchorage-based nonprofit health provider resolve some challenges in acquiring the commercial office and warehouse on Abbott Road. Once renovations are complete, the new facility will allow Christian Health Associates to expand its primary care services and addiction treatment program, Cornerstone Recovery. We are supporting the project with a $500,000 outright grant and $250,000 challenge grant awarded in 2019. The organization has been instrumental in handling distribution of supplies for our PPE project.
Take-home activity kits for rural Alaska
Camp Fire’s rural Alaska program shifted in 2020 due to the pandemic, and the result was a success, with more families reached than ever before. Almost 4,200 people participated. Usually, Camp Fire staff travel to rural communities with supplies, food and activities for youth to develop and encourage healthy life choices. Last year, the traveling camp model was replaced with a take-home version. More than 11,600 kits were sent to 22 communities, mainly in Southwest Alaska, with supplies for growing microgreens and recipes and ingredients for more than 34,000 meals including elder care packages. Card games and string games, beading and stress balls, crafts and outdoor activities all were distributed. Sixteen local residents were hired as summer staff in a workforce development arm of the program. The Association of Village Council Presidents, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. helped Camp Fire structure an approach that was safe, fun and enriching for all. Camp Fire received a $40,000 grant in 2020 for its summer camp program from Rasmuson Foundation’s camp initiative.
Reflecting on colonization
Tristan Agnauraq Morgan, one of our Momentum fellows, is having their first solo art show, “‘Reflections,” at Studio 223 in downtown Anchorage through Feb. 28. “Reflections” explores experiences and relationships with decolonization. The Jan. 15 opening event included a livestream with spoken words by Tristan about creating this six-piece series through personal navigation of colonial spaces. Two Individual Artist Award recipients, musicians Quinn Christopherson and Nick Carpenter of Medium Build, performed. The event also included a masked, in-person experience and opportunity to purchase stickers and prints. The Momentum program comes through a partnership with Philanthropy Northwest that helps individuals from underrepresented communities explore careers in philanthropy.
Josh Hemsath, a fellow on the Program Team, is leaving the Foundation for a new job as senior associate with Agnew::Beck, an Anchorage consulting firm. He initially will be working on health and human service projects. Josh joined the Foundation in June 2019 for a two-year program and has been a valued staff member, working on grant requests, supporting the PPE Resource Links Project and helping with new technology tools. We will miss Josh!