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Alaska State Council on the Arts Is Forced to Close Its Doors

Orange wall decorated with stained-glass masks made by students.

The Alaska State Council on the Arts closed its doors until further notice on Monday, July 15, after 53 years of service. The loss of ASCA will be felt statewide, especially in the Bering Strait region, which has long utilized services and programs offered by the organization.

Alice Bioff, from Nome, is a trustee on the Alaska State Council on the Arts. She says ASCA is not just about promoting “art as a concept.” The organization has helped to stimulate local economies by providing resources for artists, like workshops for those who want to take the next step in their careers.

“A lot of times in our smaller communities, 300-500 folks, the one industry that seems to be consistent and is working is the arts community… We want to continue supporting these artists, and removing ASCA from that picture is going to be heartbreaking, because that’s an organization that provides tools and resources that support these artists, who support themselves, their families, and their communities.”

ASCA is also the organization responsible for the Silver Hand program, which Bioff says several artists in the region utilize. The program allows artists to authenticate their Native-made work.

“…and adds value to their marketing campaigns. It also deters those that want to make fake Native art. So that’s huge.”

Both the Nome and the Bering Strait School District have also frequently made use of ASCA’s Artists in Schools program. Just a few months back in May, Nome welcomed artist-in-residency Kristen Link, who helped students paint a mural depicting community and cultural values, now displayed on Front Street.

BSSD hosts seven to eight artist residencies each year thanks to the ASCA-funded program. Stained glass pieces light up almost every classroom in the White Mountain School, a time capsule of artist Jim Kaiser’s work with generations of students — he’s held a residency at the school the past 25 years.

In an interview from this past February, shortly after Governor Dunleavy revealed his budget plan to eliminate all ASCA funding, BSSD superintendent Dr. Robert Bolen emphasized the importance of state funding for the arts.

“These are programs that help get our students engaged in learning, so they’re very important to our students, to our communities…”

The governor’s Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow has said time and time again that the governor’s chosen budget cuts are the result of a series of “difficult decisions.”

“The governor’s office looked at things based on whether or not they were a core government service, whether they were required in statute or in the law, whether or not they are performing in relationship to the amount being spent, and whether or not they’re meeting the desired outcomes.”

In its announcement of closure online, ASCA states that: “A $693,500 appropriation in state funds to ASCA would represent 0.014% (around 1/100th of one percent) of the state’s $4.9 billion general fund spending package.”

According to a report from ADN, the loss of ASCA makes Alaska the only state in the country without an arts council.

As the Legislature’s new special session continues, there is still time for changes to be considered on the elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and other proposed budget cuts as well.

Image at top: Completed stained glass masks made by White Mountain high school students during Jim Kaiser’s 2019 Artists in Schools residency. Photo: Amber Klepper, used with permission.