The Willoughby District, including the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, is seen here on Jan. 4, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Willoughby District, including the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, is seen here on Jan. 4, 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Why I support the vision behind the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center

I want to publicly express my support for the effort by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to build a new Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC). Fifty years has passed since the old JACC was built, and Juneau’s art and culture programming have outgrown the facility, which is deteriorating and has substandard features.

We should be proud that Juneau recently ranked sixth in the country for creative vitality. The new JACC will build on that and help mark Juneau as an arts and culture center and a destination for art lovers.

The idea also makes good fiscal sense. Studies have shown that the arts are a vital part of our economy; more than $57 million was spent by artists, arts organizations and audiences in 2013 in the region, according to a 2014 study by the Southeast Conference. Artists in the region earned almost $30 million through the arts in 2013-that’s money that went back into our economy. Investing in new infrastructure will provide a strong financial return.

We at Sealaska Heritage Institute know first-hand of the need for a larger facility. Sealaska Heritage sponsors Celebration, one of the largest cultural events in the state. Celebration, which first began in 1982, outgrew Centennial Hall long ago and now takes up several venues, including the JACC. Although we are grateful for the use of the JACC, it’s not large enough to accommodate the Native artist market we sponsor during Celebration, so the market has expanded to Sealaska Plaza. A 2012 study by the McDowell Group found that the economic impact of Celebration on Juneau was $2,200,000 that year, and it follows that as our event is able to grow into additional infrastructure, the economic boon to Juneau will too.

Also, there are very few performance venues in Alaska, and especially Juneau, that are actually designed with acoustics in mind. The heartache and frustration for musicians is that people’s enjoyment of performances is closely connected to whether the sound at the venue is good, and that has a lot to do with the acoustics of the space. The lack of good conditions can make a fantastic musician almost sound like an amateur. We need a good performing arts center in Juneau, and the old JACC has substandard features.

The push for a new JACC also ties in to Sealaska Heritage Institute’s goal to make Juneau the Northwest Coast art capital, which will have positive economic repercussions for the region.

We opened our art and cultural facility, the Walter Soboleff Building, in 2015 and I appreciate the hard work it takes to plan, fundraise and bring a facility such as the new JACC to fruition. I applaud the people behind this effort for having the vision to grow Juneau’s profile as an arts community and to build on the national recognition we have already received.


• Rosita Worl is the president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, a Native art and culture facility in Juneau. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


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