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Alaska State Council on the arts is forced to close doors

Jul 29, 2019

Editor's note: The state's final operating budget, signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, included funding the Alaska Legislature restored $3,869,600 for the Alaska State Council on the Arts.  

Completed stained glass masks made by White Mountain high school students during Jim Kaiser’s 2019 Artists in Schools residency. (Photo courtesy Amber Klepper)

The Alaska State Council on the Arts closed its doors July 15 until further notice, 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.

Alaska State Council on the Arts trustee Alice Bioff said ASCA is not just about promoting “art as a concept.” The organization has helped to stimulate local economies by providing resources for artists, such as 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," she said. "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 also is 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," she said. "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. Nome welcomed artist-in-residency Kristen Link, who helped students paint a mural In May, 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 February interview shortly after Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy revealed his budget plan to eliminate all ASCA funding, BSSD Superintendent 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," he said.

The governor’s Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow has said 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 about 1/100th of 1 percent of the state’s $4.9 billion general fund spending package.”

According to a report from Anchorage Daily News, 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.