More than half a dozen Juneau artists were recognized in the Rasmuson Foundation’s yearly Individual Artist Awards, including one artist who took home the top award.
Every year since 2017, the Rasmuson Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit dedicated to improving life for Alaskans, gives out grants to artists. There’s one award for a distinguished artist with decades of accomplishments, 10 fellowships for mid-career and mature artists to help creative development and 25 project awards, to help developing artists with a single project.
This year, 7 of those awards went to Juneau artists. Wayne Price was named the Distinguished Artist of the Year, which came with a $40,000 award.
“It was pretty emotional. This was my fifth year applying,” Bartholomew said. “Every year you get excited hoping it’s you and this year it was.”
She wasn’t the only artist excited to earn an award.
“I feel really good about it. I’ve applied to this award maybe five times,” Worl said in a phone interview. “It’s perfect time because the project I’ve decided to change to, which is the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural. It just seems like the time, with the world having to look at racism and how it affects people.”
Quiet voices speaking loud
The voices of women of the past, Alaska Natives, people of color and other oft-marginalized voices rang loud in the projects of this year’s awardees.
Bartholomew’s project is writing and recording songs about the women of the Klondike Gold Rush.
“Where do women fit in? Why don’t we know more about them? Whose stories aren’t being told?” Bartholomew asked. “These stories are larger than life, and music is a way to bring them to a larger audience.”
Campen’s focus was likewise regionally focused, but on the fishermen of Southeast Alaska.
“One is that I’m really investigating this question of what it’s like to turn aspects of my life that are pedestrian into dance,” Campen said in a phone interview. “There’s so many thousand years of amazing dance here. There’s really amazing Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian dance. All of which is really specific to place and to the lives of people here.”
For others, like Cook, that specific history was an inspiration and an impetus.
“I saw the Alaska State Museum’s ‘Decolonizing Alaska’ exhibit and thought ‘That’s who I want to be talking to. That’s the conversation,’” said Cook, an essayist. “Because that show was/is stupendous. Themes of social equity, healing from colonial trauma and grieving ecological upheaval. When I went through K-12 in Juneau, those conversations weren’t happening — not publically, not the way they are now.”
Eriksen’s project is a young adult novel, set in verse, about her experiences as a Korean adoptee.
“As a teenager I was exposed to very few Asian American writers, maybe zero, and certainly no Korean adoptee poetry that I understood or could relate to. I get excited about art as a powerful vehicle to tell our stories, first and foremost to ourselves and to our own communities,” Eriksen said in an email. “I’ve written a lot about the Asian American experience, and some of the adult Korean adoptee experience, but very little about growing up. I welcome the opportunity to explore that more with this project.”
Hope, one of the preeminent Northwest Coast weavers, will be focused on improving her design and collaging skills, giving the body of knowledge held by the community more life.
“The catalyst for this is thinking about the canon, the work of Chilkat weavers, and the work my mother (Clarissa Rizal) did, and how few of us there are, and how few of us there are designing. There’s a hole in our knowledge,” Hope said in a phone interview. “There’s fewer designers than Chilkat weavers, and my constant mantra is how can I share this knowledge, how can I share this with my students, so when I’m gone, the next people will know more.”
Worl’s project, a downtown mural of Elzabeth Peratrovich scheduled to be unveiled for Celebration 2021, will be one of the most-easily visible projects.
“I’m really excited. This seems like a great time to commemorate Elizabeth Peratrovich,” Worl said. “It’s going to be bright colors. I’m going to focus on the formline components, which is going to be sockeye salmon. It’s a really great opportunity to educate locals and visitors and who Elizabeth Peratrovich is.”
Art in a time of upheaval
Many of the themes present in the projects these artists hope to accomplish reflect larger themes flaring in the United States pushing back against white-dominated views of history and art.
“I just really want people to know who Elizabeth Peratrovich is. Our schools should be teaching about her, more so than what colonialist did what,” Worl said. “We should learn more about what activists did. See was the person who pushed for the first anti-discrimination law to be passed in the United States. It’s time that we empower Indigenous voices and Black voices in art.”
History was the underpinning for many of the projects awarded grant money.
“I feel like this generation needs to put its own spin on that history, learning from that history,” Bartholomew said. “I perform the songs at the Alaska Historical Society and the Alaska Folk Festival. It’s inspired by the research and there’s some really great historians that dedicate their life to this and I’m standing on their shoulders.”
While the coronavirus has forced all of these artists to reevaluate how they’re going to carry out the project, the one-year deadline for using the funds that the Rasmuson Foundation usually includes with the grant has been extended to two years. For many artists, whose projects involve bringing people to Juneau or traveling to study with other artists and experts, this extension has has been helpful as they rework their plans.
“To paraphrase something my counselor once said, ‘How has the pandemic not affected my work?’ might be an easier question to answer,” Eriksen said. “As it has been for so many, COVID-19 has completely altered the landscape of my home and work life, as an artist, teaching artist and as an organizer at Kindred Post.”
Many, such as Hope, are turning to electronic communication to help coordinate their further learning and projects. Others, such as Bartholomew, are reworking their projects after previous plans to bring outside artists in have to be reconsidered with pandemic best practices.
“Before COVID-19 I had this group of rock star lady artists that I wanted to bring to Juneau to record. We’ll see,” Bartholomew said. “I’ve been working really closely with a producer in Gustavus named Justin Smith. We haven’t made exact plans ,but we would have brought his gear here. We don’t want to bring anything to small communities.”