Sealaska Heritage begins construction of arts campus

Pictured: A rendering of Sealaska Heritage Heritage Institute's Arts Campus.(Image: Sealaska Heritage Heritage Institute)

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Campus to be located in an area designated as Heritage Square by the City and Borough of Juneau in 2018

News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) today launched the construction phase of its Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus, putting it one step closer to making Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital of the world.

A small traditional ceremony had been planned but was cancelled due to the rise in local COVID-19 infections and concern for the safety of the Elders and clan leaders who would conduct the ceremony. However a grand celebration is planned when the construction of the arts campus is completed.

Today marked a proud moment for Sealaska Heritage Institute, as it was an exciting milestone to pass, said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl.

“We moved forward with construction and in that instant, the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus became very real. We are now building phase two of our vision to make Juneau the Northwest Coast arts capital, and this is a momentous day,” Worl said.

“We can’t wait to share the arts campus with the community and the world.”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon echoed Worl’s excitement, saying the project will provide a creative venue for Alaska Native and Northwest Coast art and be a boon to the economy.

“It will bring needed vitality to the downtown region and generate economic and educational benefits to both Juneau and the region,” Weldon said.

The project also will enhance public safety and contribute to the city’s long term economic priority to draw more cruise ship visitors to the core of downtown.

The campus, which will encompass approximately 6,000 square feet, will house indoor and outdoor space for artists to make monumental Northwest Coast art pieces, such as totem poles and canoes; classrooms for art programming and instruction; and space for performances, Native art markets, an art library, artists-in-residence, faculty and public gatherings. Instruction will be offered for both non-credit and credit for students seeking art degrees through Sealaska Heritage Institute’s partners, the University of Alaska Southeast and the Institute of American Indian Arts. It will also have capabilities for distance learning. 

The project will stimulate Juneau’s economy during construction by providing jobs to 55 people. It will boost labor income by $5.5 million and generate $9.5 million in expenditures. Sealaska Heritage Institute also hopes the project will boost morale in a year when bad news has prevailed.

“We’re living in a time when people are just trying to get by, but the Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus is about the future. It’s about a vision to help revitalize Juneau and provide opportunities in-person and online for artists and the public. We’re living in a new and challenging world, but the campus will rise in spite of that,” Worl said.

The work will be spearheaded by longtime contractor Dawson Construction, Inc., which built Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building and has an office in Juneau. The campus was designed by Juneau’s MRV Architects, which also designed the Walter Soboleff Building. Sealaska Heritage Institute expects the project to be completed by July 2021.

Sealaska Heritage Institute launched the construction phase after securing funding and commitments that cover 85 percent of the total cost of $13.2 million. Several major partners were gearing up to contribute the remaining funds to the project prior to Covid 19, but the fiscal chaos created by the pandemic sidetracked those donations for now. In response, Sealaska Heritage Institute opted to build the facility in phases, which will allow donors to give toward the end of the project.

Other donors have given to the project since the pandemic, even though they were experiencing financial challenges.

“We are humbled by the donors who have given, even though it was not easy. That is testament to their belief in the arts campus and the work we are doing for the benefit of Juneau and beyond,” Worl said.

About the Campus

The Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus will be located at Front and Seward Streets, an area designated as Heritage Square by the City and Borough of Juneau in 2018. The space, currently a private parking lot, is directly across the street from Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building, which was built during phase one and opened in 2015. Sealaska donated the parking lot to Sealaska Heritage Institute in 2019 and, through the project, parking will move underground, opening a new cultural space for Juneau residents and visitors at a prime location in downtown.

The overall design will incorporate the same traditional and contemporary themes as in the Walter Soboleff Building with art adorning the facility. The campus will include a totem pole and five monumental bronze masks representing Alaska’s major cultural groups called “Faces of Alaska.” The street and plaza will also include artistic designs tying them to Heritage Square.

Sealaska Heritage Institute’s goals for the campus are to expand Alaska Native and Northwest Coast art programming to ensure perpetuation of these ancient art practices, which are unique in the world and include some practices that are endangered; support Native artists through art markets and classes; and to offer a space where the general public can learn about Alaska Native cultures and art forms at a preeminent space in downtown.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

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