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 File)

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 File)

The 5 biggest arts stories of 2019

The near-vetoes, protests and more that made the year.

National and state politics had a way of seeping into just about everything this year — arts and culture were no exception.

The same budget debates and protests that defined much of what happened on the state level threatened Alaska’s state arts council, influenced the artwork people made and factored into the discussion of what arts-related projects received funding. However, while line-item vetoes, protests and special sessions of the Legislature drove some of the biggest arts and culture stories this year, they didn’t drive every story.

Here’s a look at the five biggest arts and culture stories from this year, and a look ahead at what might shape next year.

1. Arts and budget vetoes

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveiled in late June more than $400 million in line-item vetoes to the Legislature’s approved budget, the Alaska State Council on the Arts was on the chopping block — all of its $2.8 million budget was set to be eliminated. Without state funding, the council would have also been ineligible for federal funds, too.

The arts council is a source of funding for many local arts organizations.

Ultimately, state funding was restored after a pair of contentious special session, which prevented Alaska from being the only state without an arts council.

For weeks, the fate of the program was a question mark, and there was an office shutdown from July 15-Aug. 30, according to the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Arts blackouts were held in Juneau and other cities in protest.

The National Endowment for the Arts chairman Mary Anne Carter even weighed in on the importance of the council to the state’s economy during an August visit.

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

While funding was restored, the state council is still recovering, according to the Alaska State Council on the Arts. By January 2020, The Silver Hand Program, Community and Native Arts Programs, Percent for Art and the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank programs are expected to be restored, according to the council.

2. Voters reject New JACC public funding plan

A proposed new Juneau Arts & Culture Center hit a snag this year.

Voters declined to approve a plan for the city to provide a grant of up-to $4.5 million for a proposed $26.4 million project when it made its way to City and Borough of Juneau ballots. It was one of three ballot propositions — initiatives placed on ballots by the Assembly that ask voters questions — in October’s election, and it was the only one to fail. The other props were to raise the city’s hotel-motel tax and to issue up to $7 million in bonds to renovate Centennial Hall.

Votes against the proposition outnumbered votes for it by about 1,100.

Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, watches results come in at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, watches results come in at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Even before the New JACC proposition was on ballots, discussions about the project were frequent and public throughout the year.

There were considerations of combining the effort with a revamped Centennial Hall in a single building and a public request for $7.5 million. There was even an active political action committee that opposed the project.

The ultimate electoral fate of the vote may have been influenced by a summer of economic uncertainty.

Concerns over what burdens the city could face in light of the state’s austerity likely hurt the case of a partially publicly funded arts and culture center.

After the election results, New JACC leadership said they remained committed to making the New JACC happen.

3. Art turns on Dunleavy

This entry has a lot to do with the first entry on this list.

The backlash to the governor’s proposed budget and later his line-item vetoes wasn’t just expressed at rallies outside the Alaska State Capitol. It was also communicated in artwork that on occasion went viral.

Sitka artist Tommy Joseph stands with the ridicule pole he carved in front of the Planet Alaska Gallery on Ferry Way on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. The pole includes likenesses of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, top, and President Donald Trump. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sitka artist Tommy Joseph stands with the ridicule pole he carved in front of the Planet Alaska Gallery on Ferry Way on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. The pole includes likenesses of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, top, and President Donald Trump. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

A ridicule pole made by master carver Tommy Joseph to shame Dunleavy made its way from Sitka to Juneau in time to appear at while signatures were being collected for an ongoing recall effort. Stickers bearing Dunleavy’s likeness and one word, “oosik,” also began popping up around town.

Ketchikan artist Matt Hamilton was the artist behind the viral sticker and said they made it to more than just Juneau.

“There’s one person who bought 400 them in Ninilchik, or at least her address from Ninilchik,” he told the Capital City Weekly in October.

4. Perseverance Theatre has a new artistic director

In late June, Perseverance Theatre announced one artistic director would be leaving. By early July, the theater announced the hiring of an interim director who would ultimately become his full-time successor.

Art Rotch left Perseverance Theatre this summer after more than a decade as artistic director. That time included a stint as its executive director, and his history with the theater dates back to 1988. Rotch’s last day with the theater was announced as June 30, and by July 3, Leslie Ishii was named the theater’s interim artistic director.

Leslie Ishii, Artistic Director for Perseverance Theatre, talks about her goals for Juneau’s professional theater during an interview on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Leslie Ishii, Artistic Director for Perseverance Theatre, talks about her goals for Juneau’s professional theater during an interview on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

That announcement was made in tandem with the naming of Frank Delaney as managing director.

Ishii’s short time leading the theater has been eventful.

She was still an interim artistic director when the decision was made to pull “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from the theater’s season around the end of July. It was replaced by “Silent Sky” by Lauren Gunderson. She was also interim director when the theater saw the world premiere of “Devilfish” by Vera Starbard, which the playwright characterized as a love letter to Tlingit people.

By October, she was announced as Rotch’s permanent successor, and Ishii said she envisions an inclusive, healing future for the professional theater on Douglas Island.

5. Stonewall’s 50th anniversary is thoroughly celebrated

This year was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising — a sometimes violent series of protests in New York City that were a flashpoint for LGBTQ+ pride and identity — and the anniversary was well-observed in Juneau.

Gigi Monroe presents the 5th annual GLITZ Drag Show in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on Friday, June 14, 2019. Tomorrow’s block party downtown will also celebrate Stonewall as well as Woodstock. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gigi Monroe presents the 5th annual GLITZ Drag Show in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on Friday, June 14, 2019. Tomorrow’s block party downtown will also celebrate Stonewall as well as Woodstock. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

GLITZ, the capital city’s annual drag blowout, payed homage to the event. There were also readings, observations, plays and more to mark the milestone. While it was not connected to the 50th anniversary of Stonewall or explicitly to LGBTQ+ support, a rainbow crosswalk officially became part of downtown Juneau’s streets in 2019.

Pedestrians cross Front Street at Main after the city finished painting the crosswalk in rainbow colors on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Pedestrians cross Front Street at Main after the city finished painting the crosswalk in rainbow colors on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

One of the most high-profile efforts that was officially connected to Stonewall 50 was “Blue Ticket.” The play by Maureen Longworth depicted a less-enlightened era in Juneau history when vigilantes forced undesirables — especially homosexual men — from the capital city.

While the play was a passion project of Longworth’s for years, it made its debut during the golden anniversary of Stonewall, and it was listed as part of Juneau’s Stonewall 50 Project.

A prediction for 2020: Elizabeth Peratrovich will be everywhere

Next year, an Alaskan civil rights icon is in position to permeate the collective consciousness of the state and nation.

Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit woman known for successfully advocating for Alaska Native rights, is slated to appear on official U.S. currency in 2020. Peratrovich is the focus of “tails side” of the year’s Native American $1 coin, which references Alaska’s anti-discrimination law of 1945.

League of Women Voters of Juneau volunteers prepare Annie Boochever’s book about civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich “Fighter in Velvet Gloves” for mailing at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. Over 450 copies of the book were packaged to be shipped to libraries and school across Alaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

League of Women Voters of Juneau volunteers prepare Annie Boochever’s book about civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich “Fighter in Velvet Gloves” for mailing at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. Over 450 copies of the book were packaged to be shipped to libraries and school across Alaska. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Additionally, a Peratrovich biography will be available at just about every school and library and school in the state, thanks to an effort with roots in Juneau.

The Alaska State Library and both local and statewide chapters of the League of Women Voters collaborated to procure, pack and ship hundreds of copies of “The Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich” by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr.

Expect peak Peratrovich when the state holiday in her honor rolls around on Feb. 16.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt


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