Stunning weather greeted hundreds of people who attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, an event that split performances with awards, with shouts of “gunalchéesh” laced through both.
The event at Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus on Thursday evening was a colorful nod to a bright future and an impressive past.
“For a local arts organization to succeed and thrive for 50 years is really something to celebrate, said Natalee Rothhaus, who served as executive director from 1981-1997 and was its first full-time employee. “People don’t realize that it’s one of the few local arts organizations that have survived,” she said.
JAHC’s mission encompasses arts and cultures of the Juneau community through a wide array of programming and arts education, all of which was on display. Plaques were presented to winners of the Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy Awards for the Arts three at a time. Performances took place between the awards. The Yees Ku Oo Dancers, a multicultural dance group composed of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and Alutiiq traditions brought dozens of people to their feet. Other performances include The Flukes, Rio Alberto with Luke Welds, and longtime Juneau blues woman Annie Bartholomew.
“When I first started it was in the basement on North Franklin street,” recalled Nancy DeCherney, who served as executive director from 2006-2022. The organization had about 200 members and was known for an amazing concert series as well as a gallery, and an after-school art program. She said within a year the mayor approached her with an idea of turning the Armory into an arts center.
“It was a big community effort, starting with cleaning (the armory that’s the current center) completely,” she said. “We had no idea what would happen.”
In time, “we became Kennedy Center partners in education, and Any Given Child, which is an NEA program.”
The budget grew from about $250,000 to about $1 million over those years. She credited the board of directors and named numerous individuals who have been critical to its success. More than anything, it’s been the overwhelming support of the community.
The emcee for the event noted the U.S. Senate had just approved funding for the NEA, which plays an important role in supporting JAHC. He told attendees if they found themselves near an elected official or on a plane with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski they should thank them for supporting the arts. And also reminded people of the 2023 Artistic License Plate Competition open for the public to vote on until July 31.
Phil Huebshen, the current executive director of JAHC, was also a steady and colorful presence at the event. He took the reins in March. “I was raised in Juneau and it’s been a really nice homecoming to help spearhead this arts initiative that has been very visible my whole life. This is a meaningful moment.”
Recipients of this year’s Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy Awards for the Arts:
Exceptional Artist – Lisa Phu
Leadership in the Promotion of Oral Traditions – Victoria Johnson
Leadership in Environmental Health and Sustainability – Rachael Juzeler
Excellence in Arts and Cultural Education – Wayne Price
Business Leadership in the Arts – Sealaska Heritage Institute
Innovation in the Arts – Chloey Cavanaugh
Patron of the Arts – Amy Dressel
Lifetime Achievement in the Arts – Molly Smith
Advancement of Community, Equity, and Stewardship by an Elected Official – Maria Gladziszewski