A year of challenges and creative solutions

The arts and artists struggled in 2020. With businesses and venues shutting down due to the pandemic, many in the field risked losing their careers or what they loved doing most. Then people mobilized. Virtual shows, emergency grants and even socially distanced events helped artists and the arts flourish.

Many artists work in retail or restaurant businesses shuttered in the pandemic. They were hit extra hard. We saw a need to help cover food, rent, utilities and other basics. Thanks to close partnerships, an emergency grant program was quickly stood up. The Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, the Atwood Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation created the Alaska Arts and Culture Emergency Relief Fund to address needs in the era of COVID-19. In all, 135 Alaska artists received $1,500 grants.

Lily Hope, a Juneau-based Tlingit artist and two-time recipient of a Foundation Individual Artist Award, created her “Chilkat Protector” mask series as a record of this time showing how Indigenous people take care of each other. The blue one received the Judge’s Choice Award from the magazine First American Art for its Masked Heroes competition. (Photo by Sydney Akagi)

To encourage municipalities to invest federal relief funds in local arts organizations, the Municipal Arts and Culture Matching Grant Program was born. We committed $560,750 as a matching incentive to municipalities that dedicated CARES Act funds for arts and culture organizations.

There also was cause for celebration as art performances and celebrations moved online. Spenard Jazz Fest and the Anchorage Folk Festival transformed the way music is showcased through their new, virtual platforms. In-person events made way for online concerts, workshops and band meet-and-greets. Festivals became more accessible with local and Outside musicians participating. Museums and galleries followed the trend. The Fairbanks Arts Association’s spring juried exhibition went digital and expanded to all Alaska artists, resulting in a large show of 200 pieces from across the state. The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center lit up its exterior walls with slides showing 500 pieces of student art from the Anchorage School District. At Rasmuson Foundation, we shifted too. Panels of artists and art experts convened virtually to select recipients of our Individual Artist Awards. We discovered the power and intimacy of virtual celebrations.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of accessibility and collaboration. For its 13th season, Momentum Dance Collective partnered with Alaska Botanical Garden and musician Kat Moore to create “Sugar & Salt.” Becky Kendall, the collective’s founder and artistic director described it as a “choose your own adventure” outdoor show. Guests walked through the garden at their own pace to enjoy any or all of six different performances throughout. To ensure accessibility, the show was live streamed and broadcast on KONR radio. Lessons learned will be carried on. New partnerships will endure. The dance company plans to create more inclusive performances and to show up for the community in new and unexpected ways.

Momentum Dance Collective partnered with Alaska Botanical Garden and musician Kat Moore to create “Sugar & Salt,” an outdoor show with space for a socially distanced audience. Pictured dancing is Irenerose Castillo. (Photos by William C. Koeppen.)

The Alaska art community transformed how it showcases, supports and celebrates artists. So did we. In the dual health and financial crises, the arts could have been neglected. We dug in our heels to make sure that didn’t happen. Artists help us heal and grow, to see what otherwise might be hidden. In challenging times, art connects us.

Tlingit master carver Wayne Price was the Foundation’s 2020 Distinguished Artist. He is renowned for the artistry and precision of his formline work, and he was one of the first in modern times to master the art of carving traditional ocean-going canoes.