Arts Business Leadership Award winner for 2017: Lani Hotch

Arts Business Leadership Award winner for 2017: Lani Hotch

In May of 2016, the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage and Bald Eagle Preserve Visitor Center opened in Klukwan, an idea that had been brewing in the community as early as 1949. Getting the project rolling was project manager and current executive director Lani Hotch, chosen to receive the Arts Business Leadership Award for the 2017 Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards.

“To build the heritage center is to build on our strength and our cultural history,” Hotch told the Capital City Weekly. “We were looking to build some kind of economic development.”

So far, the center has turned out to be just that.

The heritage center employed about 25 part time, seasonal jobs in Klukwan last season. For a village with a population of around 100 people, that’s pretty good, Hotch figured.

Hotch said last summer the center saw 3,000 visitors.

“Wasn’t as high as we hoped, but we’re hoping to do better next summer,” she said, explaining that they didn’t do advertising for the center in advance of the opening since the construction project might not be finished on time.

Still, the number was about double what they had seen for the Traditional Knowledge Camps the year before, she said, and the center will advertise for the 2017 tourism season.

Last summer, people from all over the country and the world have had the opportunity to visit the center and learn about the people of Klukwan.

“We got a lot of positive feedback from the people who did come,” she said.

These people have got to see traditional art on display at the center, like the Klukwan Healing Robe, which Hotch was a part of creating (took multiple weavers eight years to complete). Hotch is a well-known weaver, combining Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving for a style all her own. She also does skin sewing, basketry, felt applique and beading.

Other Tlingit artists’ work is featured in the center as well. Also, many Klukwan cultural pieces and artwork are being stored at the museum for safekeeping and public display, like the screen and house posts from the Whale House.

Being chosen

When Hotch got the email stating she had been awarded the Arts Business Leadership Award, she was surprised, she told the Capital City Weekly.

“I really felt honored.” She said. “At the same time I felt a little strange about being singled out because I knew it was a huge team effort … building the heritage center. It took a lot of people.”

Many people in Klukwan rallied behind the cause, from putting on fundraisers to helping her write numerous grants, she said. The Chilkat Indian Village also was a huge help. Even one of her fellow Governor Arts and Humanities’ award winners, Robert Banghart, said Hotch was “instrumental.”

“I feel like I need to recognize all these other people,” she said.

One person Hotch recognized was Steve Henrikson, the curator of collections for the Alaska State Museum, who himself received a Governor’s Award in 2016. Turns out, he was one of many who nominated Hotch for the award, said executive director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts Andrea Noble-Pelant.

In a letter to explain his nomination, Henrikson wrote: “Lani has worked diligently during her entire life in the effort to preserve and protect the sacred art and artifacts belonging to the Tlingit clans of Klukwan—culminating in the construction of the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center.”

The letter goes on to detail Hotch’s accomplishments in opening a state-of-the-art museum where many treasured cultural objects and pieces of art could publicly be displayed for the first time. He also called attention to Hotch’s classes, lectures and camps that unified the community behind the institution long before there was a building.

“Her programs led to the building of a large traditional style community house, smokehouse, and carving shed that provide a home for educational and interpretive activities prior to the completion of the Heritage Center. Other projects have created two dugout canoes, totem poles and ceremonial regalia for used in future programs,” Henrikson wrote.

Noble-Pelant said Hotch had originally been nominated for the Individual Artist Award, but it was thought her work better reflected the Arts Business Leadership award, so her nomination got shifted.

“It’s the realization of our dream,” Hotch said of the center. “That’s what we wanted. It happened. Well, it didn’t just happen. We worked hard to make it happen … I’d like to put it out there for other communities to dream big, work hard and keep on believing. Something good can happen.”

Hotch will be present at the awards ceremony which is taking place on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Tickets are $25. To purchase an award ceremony ticket or a VIP reception ticket, go to

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