About 50 artists stand with their work in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to protest heavy cuts to state arts programs. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

About 50 artists stand with their work in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to protest heavy cuts to state arts programs. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

‘Save Our Arts’: Juneau artists protest governor’s vetoes

Public sculptures go dark as artists hope for veto overrides to restore funding

Around 50 local artists met at the corner of Front and Seward streets in downtown Juneau to shroud three Alaska Native house posts in black cloth on a busy Tuesday afternoon. They dressed in black, with solemn faces carrying various pieces of their art.

Lily Hope was among them. She’s an Alaska Native artist who organized the event to symbolize what life would be like without public art and urge the Legislature to override one of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $440 million line-item vetoes which eliminates funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA).

About 50 artists stand with their work in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to protest heavy cuts to state arts programs. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

About 50 artists stand with their work in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to protest heavy cuts to state arts programs. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

If the $2.8 million line-item veto is not overridden by lawmakers, Alaska will become the only state in the country without a council for the arts. ASCA represents, supports and advances the creative endeavors of individuals, organizations and agencies throughout Alaska, according to their website.

DJ DeRego, a poet attending the protest, said the council is crucial in maintaining art throughout remote places in Alaska that cannot afford to bring artists to town on their own.

“To think of the (community) diminishing and dwindling and the youth who won’t have the opportunities that I had, to see themselves away from trauma and onto a broader stage, and have the community lift them up, we just need to do that for each other,” DeRego said in an interview.

[With Legislature fractured, override vote uncertain]

He’s a member of the Woosh Kinaadeiyí poetry nonprofit in Juneau and said ASCA has been crucial in helping fund and provide venues for workshops in villages around the state.

“The workshops have been a huge tool in bridging the understanding of what it even means to live in subsistence Alaska,” he said. But without funding for ASCA he said it would be hard to get people to participate in the same way.

About 50 artists stand with their work in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to protest heavy cuts to state arts programs. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

About 50 artists stand with their work in front of the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, to protest heavy cuts to state arts programs. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Unlike protests earlier this week, this one was smaller, but the message was just as clear.

“Save our arts,” the group chanted, as passerby tourists and locals wondered aloud what was going on.

One tourist from Davis, California who was watching the display said she had read about the budget issue in Alaska.

“I feel it’s so wrong,” said Julie Haney. “Shutting down school funding, art funding, I mean (the governor) has taken away the soul of the community by doing that. How do you expect to have future generations of amazing people if you take those things away?”

[Even ‘right-leaning’ groups, bankers and builders are calling for an override]

Emily Mesch has only lived in Juneau for four months, but before that the artist lived in Skagway and was on the council for the arts.

“The art council gives people something to do when there isn’t anything to do, especially in the winter in Skagway,” Mesch said. “If you grew up in a small town, you’re not exposed to anything outside of your town.”

The short chant and prayer song ended with a response from the spectator side of the street.

“We hear you,” cried Rosita Worl, the president of Sealaska Heritage Institute. “Without art there is no spirit… we admire you, we support you… you bring wealth to our state. The state should realize, the governor should realize, the Legislature should realize all that you bring to our lives. … Thank you all for all the things that you have done for us and we know that we will persevere. We know that we can change the hearts of those people who at this time seem to have turned their backs on our arts. We are with you.”


• Mollie Barnes is a freelance reporter in Juneau.


More in News

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a glance for Friday, Oct. 15

The most recent state and local figures

Tone and Charles Deehr in Fairbanks, October 2021. Both photos courtesy Charles Deehr. 3. (Courtesy Photo / Charles Deehr)
Alaska Science Forum: Red aurora rare enough to be special

In decades of sky-watching in the north, he has seen a few red auroras, but not many.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a glance for Thursday, Oct. 14

The most recent state and local figures

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, Oct. 15, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The Juneau Police Department will hold a drug take-back day on Oct. 23, 2021 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., said the police in a news release. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Police to hold drug take-back day on Oct. 23

Last take-back event, the DEA collected 420 tons of unused or unwanted prescription medication.

Then-Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, left, and former Juneau Representative Bill Hudson, right, speak with John Torgerson, chairman of the Alaska Redistricting Board during a break in hearing public testimony at the Capitol Wednesday, April 20, 2011.  Alaska’s state flags were lowered Thursday for longtime Alaska lawmaker, Hudson, who died Oct. 11. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
‘A large legacy’: Hudson remembered for dedication to Juneau and the state

Alaska’s state flags were lowered Thursday for longtime Alaska lawmaker Bill Hudson.

The author photographs one of the numerous bull moose he and his wife saw on an elk hunt in Wyoming. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Desired vs. realized success

No elk taken, but it’s nothing to grouse about.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows gray currents, also called stink currants, Vivian Mork photographer. (Vivian Mork Yeilk’ / For the Capital City Weekly)
Planet Alaska: Picking currants and riding currents

We give respect and thanks to the berries and the birds as we harvest the last of the berries.

Most Read