This past week was only the second of the 2016 legislative session, and it was a busy one. With the State of Alaska facing an unprecedented budget deficit, the pace of activity is accelerating. It is crucial for Alaskans to be proactive about communicating with legislators, who face difficult choices and not a great deal of time in which to make them.
Many Alaskans who are committed to the beneficial influence of the arts, humanities, museums, and other cultural activities and organizations came to Juneau last week to make their case as part of a coordinated effort with the Culture, Humanities, Arts & Museums Partners (CHAMP). CHAMP is in its third year, and 2016 was the best so far in terms of putting forward a positive message about why arts and culture matter, and how they can help Alaskans meet the challenges we face and live better lives.
Members of CHAMP spent time learning about each other’s structure and specific goals for the current legislative session. The Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA, on which I serve as chairman) is the only partner that is a state agency with a specific federal statutory requirement for a minimum legislative appropriation to match a federal allocation of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
The federal law is the National Arts & Humanities Act, and it has been in effect since 1966. It is worth noting that ASCA’s state appropriation constitutes less than a third of its overall budget, with the NEA funds and significant contributions from private foundations (Rasmuson in Alaska and Margaret A. Cargill nationally) paying the lion’s share of operational costs. ASCA’s grants to arts organizations and individual artists across Alaska are a further means by which a multiplier effect is achieved as a beneficial outcome of the State investment. CHAMP effectively conveyed this information to key legislators early in the budget process for the 2017 fiscal year.
The Alaska Humanities Forum is, unlike ASCA, a private non-profit that is not funded with State dollars because of different requirements in the National Arts & Humanities Act. The Humanities Forum runs a wide array of programs including a rural-urban Sister School Exchange program for middle and high school students and teachers, and a Cross Cultural Immersion program for teachers to learn from colleagues across the Last Frontier. The Humanities Forum also has extensive online resources for educators and students, and runs a strong grant program to support local and individual humanities projects.
The Humanities Forum is currently working a series of films about historically significant Alaskans. One of the highlights of CHAMP was a Lunch & Learn in the state Capitol last Wednesday, where each partner presented to legislators and staff. The forum ran a clip of a new film about iconic Alaskan Sen. Clem Tillion, former legislator and fishing leader; the segment was a strong indication all the films in this series will be of great quality and enduring interest to Alaskans. The proceedings included interesting presentations by the other partners and were broadcast on Gavel-to-Gavel (www.360north.org/gavel-archives/).
Museums Alaska is also a non-profit membership organization that brings together cultural institutions from across the Great Land. This year the museum advocates brought a message of support to the Capitol regarding legislation that would create a capital project matching mechanism to encourage investment in cultural resource facilities at the local level. HB 52 would create a Museum Construction Grant Program analogous to an existing program for the construction, expansion and major renovation of libraries. Many Alaskan museums are planning for means to undertake work in these areas and the matching program will be subject to future appropriations when the state’s finances are stable. HB 52 is awaiting a hearing in the House Finance Committee, and Museums Alaska will continue to work to move it forward in hopes of its becoming law.
The Alaska Historical Society is also a non-profit organization that works to ensure that Alaska’s unique and brilliant history is appreciated and experienced by Alaskans and informs our daily lives. So much other artistic and cultural activity is directly informed by historical facts, the Historical Society is a natural Partner.
ASCA and the Humanities Forum have for the past three years also collaborated on presenting the Governor’s Awards for the Arts & Humanities in Juneau in conjunction with CHAMP Day. This year, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and Mrs. Toni Mallott presided over the presentation of the awards, and a beautiful evening at which Juneau was very well represented. Nancy DeCherney of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council won the Governor’s Award for Arts Advocacy; artist, performer and teacher Vicki Soboleff received the Margaret Nick Cook Award for Alaska Native Arts and Languages; and Steve Henrikson of the Alaska State Museum garnered an award for Distinguished Service for the Humanities. Other awardees from across the state were honored, and all these proceedings were also broadcast live and are archived at 360north.org.
CHAMP 2016 confirms that collaboration and co-operation among Alaskans involved in artistic, humanistic, and cultural endeavors produces tangible results and conveys a convincing message about the value of museum, arts, libraries, and all other elements of our cultural experiences.
* Ben Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau and chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
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