The city Assembly will meet next week to consider an investment of $1.5 million for the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus, which is part of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital of the world.
The city’s contribution to the arts campus is an investment that will provide significant and long-term economic benefits to Juneau and the business community, as well as the type of cultural and educational benefits — for Native and non-Native people — that enrich our town and make it a better place to live.
The arts campus will stimulate economic and social boons in the same way that the city’s investment in the Walter Soboleff Building did at a time when we sorely need it.
The city’s $3 million investment in the $20 million Walter Soboleff Building paved the way for an explosion of growth of community-based programming, which grew by 400 percent after the facility opened in 2015. SHI’s annual budget grew from $3 million to $20 million over a 10-year span, and staff grew from 12 to 65 employees.
Those 53 new jobs translated into a large economic impact for Juneau. When all local spending for payroll and goods and services is considered, spending in the Juneau economy from SHI operations is projected to total $12.9 million in 2021, according to estimates by the research firm McDowell Group.
SHI’s growth is also providing a significant financial contribution to Juneau schools, educators and the university. Over a five-year span, SHI will contribute $7 million to the Juneau School District, University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) and the Southeast Regional Resource Center to increase the quality of educational programming, decrease dropout rates and improve student-teacher ratios. SHI and UAS have partnered to train Alaskan teachers and strengthen teacher education. SHI has increased student enrollment in its sponsored programs and classes.
The city’s investment in the arts campus will also help Juneau recover from the financial toll of the pandemic. The construction impacts alone are projected to be $7.3 million in 2021, and the project is expected to support 55 jobs and $9.5 million in total local spending for 2020 and 2021, according to McDowell estimates.
A top-ranking official in tourism wrote that the city’s investment in the arts campus “will provide lasting economic benefits to Juneau, both during construction and in perpetuity. The project will also help to further revitalize the downtown area and will provide needed foot traffic for area businesses. But beyond these monetary considerations, it also promises to become the artistic and cultural center for Northwest Coast arts. This will bring a cultural and educational vitality to the area that is typically reserved for major cities.”
SHI is a nonprofit public service entity — separate and distinct from Sealaska Corporation — that gives back millions to the community, school district and university. SHI has built a reputation within the education community for its success in improving academic achievement, notably in the Harborview program and in early childhood literacy through its award-winning Baby Raven Reads program. SHI conducts social scientific research and supports national and international visiting scholars. Its library, archives and free lecture series are open to the public as well.
We are thankful to the city for having the foresight to invest in the Walter Soboleff Building, and we are proud of the contributions we have been able to make to the community as a result. We respectfully request that the Assembly approve the $1.5 million investment, which will be fully dedicated to the construction of the arts campus. We humbly ask the people of Juneau to take this journey with us again and help downtown blossom into the world-class arts destination we know it is destined to be.
• Rosita Worl is president of Sealaska Heritage Institute.