Juneau is fortunate to have a strong, vibrant arts community, one that makes continuing contributions to the city’s culture and economy. We live in a town brimming with artists and arts supporters, where contributions come in many forms. Individual artists create and exhibit outstanding work. Board members of the city’s many art organizations give thousands of hours every year to keep their organizations solvent and capable of producing local shows and exhibits. Many hundreds of volunteers help stage local arts events, working as ticket takers, set builders, ushers, security staff, box office managers, scene painters, roadies, and any number of other jobs.
Audiences fill existing venues and attend other arts events for scores of event-nights per year, and many individuals, families and businesses support the arts financially. The time, the effort, the passion and the optimism of all these locals, over many years, provides invaluable social capital and a foundation of interest and support for the new JACC. It is worth noting, in this context, that Juneau is nationally recognized as a premier arts community.
When the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council moved into their dark, empty building next to Egan Drive, no one could have predicted how alive, how popular, and how important this venue would become. It is now booked almost to capacity every year, not only for arts events and performances, but for other events too including wedding receptions, birthday parties, award ceremonies, reunions, fundraisers, memorial services. The list goes on. The almost constant use of the existing JACC is strong evidence, proof really, that the new JACC will be in demand, and, along with performances and other arts events and exhibitions, will continue to be booked for community, social and family events.
The existing JACC was built in 1959 as a National Guard Armory, is in deteriorating condition, and is a very poor candidate for investment as an arts center, not at all a long-term answer. Centennial Hall, right next door, was built in 1982, is behind in maintenance and modernization and needs significant investment to ‘catch up’ as a quality venue. But if the JACC and Centennial Hall are to continue serving the community, each will need a considerable expenditure of funds. Centennial Hall has years of remaining life if it is renovated and modernized. The current JACC is not worth additional investment and has to be replaced. We, as a community, can make a forward-looking choice on Oct. 1 that embraces the future.
We have an opportunity to build a new JACC, renovate Centennial Hall and design the projects so that they can work together to provide the town a large, versatile venue capable of serving locals and visitors alike, in both good times and bad, for many years to come. The replacement of the existing JACC and the restoration of a companion Centennial Hall gives these two important community facilities a renewed lifetime to serve the community. We have an opportunity now, maybe a one-time opportunity, to accomplish a forward-looking and ambitious project that combines both facilities into a larger, and more efficient and marketable whole.
As companion facilities, a renovated and modernized Centennial Hall and a new Arts and Culture Center, designed with connectivity and joint use in mind and close to the State Museum, Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall and the Walter Soboleff Center, will create a centralized and versatile space that can host a diversity of events. The two facilities can be offered as a comprehensive meeting and events venue, potentially improving the city’s position in attracting outside conferences, trade shows and exhibitions.
We should not shrink from big ideas because times are tough. Times will be better again, and yet the chance we have to build an enduring community arts, culture and conference center may be gone. There is great energy and effort in the community for this project now, with a significant display of local support. Let’s carry this forward, because the new JACC, and an updated and companion Centennial Hall, are a boon to the entire community, and to everyone who believes that Juneau’s future, despite the ups and downs, is promising. It’s a community investment worth making. Vote “yes” on Propositions 1, 2 and 3.
• Peter Freer is a longtime local resident and arts supporter, and a former member of the Borough Assembly.