Area along the downtown Juneau waterfront where ten totem poles will be raised in 2023. SHI is working with the City and Borough of Juneau on placement, which is subject to change from positions shown in the image. (Courtesy / SHI)

Totem pole trail project takes another step forward

The installation is planned to begin in early 2023.

Downtown Juneau is set to welcome up to 12 totem poles carved by Southeast Alaskan Native artists on the waterfront and Mayor Bill Overstreet Park in early 2023 after the installation proposal was OK’d by the City Borough of Juneau Assembly .

The go-ahead came on Monday after the CBJ Assembly committee entered into a memorandum of agreement with Sealaska Heritage Institute that allows the organization to install the 10-12 pieces on CBJ land downtown. The totem poles are set to line along the waterfront and in Overstreet Park and be paired with their own interpretive storyboard which will serve to inform viewers about the artwork’s origins and identify its clan and crest.

“The idea to have totems up along the waterfront has been around for probably 10,000 years or more,” said Lee Kadinger, chief operating officer for SHI. “It’s a village economic revitalization as well as a wide representation of Alaska Native artists.”

[Selaska Heritage gets grant for totem pole trail]

He said the SHI plans to erect the totem poles in late February or March and the carving of each is already underway. Each pole has been assigned to a master artist from a Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Alaska Native communities throughout Southeast Alaska to carve and teach the carving skills to two apprentices who will learn as well as help craft each pole.

“It’s a little more than simply just carving a Totem pole. Not only does the master artist have to carve the pole, but they also have to teach to apprentices; and in that way, we’re able to pass along that knowledge,” he said.

This installation project is just the first phase of a master plan to erect around 30 Totem poles along the waterfront and in Overstreet Park. Kadinger said the goal is comprise a totem pole trail — Kootéeyaa Deiyí. The funding for this phase comes from a $2.9 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which pays for the totem pole carving installation and apprenticeship as well.

Kadinger said even though the first phase hasn’t even broken ground yet, SHI is already working on the future installations to come. “We’re already working on that,” he said, laughing.

“The city is very supportive of it and was always supportive of public art in our public spaces, especially Alaska Native art. I think this trail will become a real visitor attraction and hopefully help tell the story of our community to visitors in an interesting way and a unique way,” said Alexandra Pierce, the CBJ tourism manager.

Pierce said CBJ and SHI will work together in the future to continue to bring as many totem poles to life as envisioned by SHI. But, the exact location is up for change and will be based on the individual factors of each location.

“It’s super cool to see SHI elevating the art in our public spaces. This is the next evolution of that,” Pierce said.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or at (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter @clariselarson

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