The 2011 Governor’s Awards for the Arts & Humanities were presented Wednesday evening during a gala ceremony held in Anchorage’s Hotel Captain Cook. Ten highly accomplished Alaskans were honored for their distinguished service, lifetime achievement, advocacy, and leadership: Dr. Maryanne Allan, Dr. Ray Barnhardt, Arthur William “Bill” Brody, Jeff Brown, Tom Heywood, Dr. Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley (posthumous), Mike McCormick, Jim Rearden, Michael Powers, and Carol Comeau. Among those who provided welcoming remarks was Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Susan K. Bell. Commissioner Bell’s remarks are printed below.

Good evening! On behalf of Gov. Parnell, I’m happy to be with you for this celebration of arts and humanities in Alaska. I know the governor has a deep and abiding appreciation for the creative spark that breeds innovation.

As we work together as a state to establish a diverse and sustainable economy, all of us here tonight know there is a vital role for the arts and the humanities, and for the creativity that inspires both.

Art and commerce, which actively set the terms for one another, create and enrich our world. I’m reminded everyday of the interconnectedness of art and the economy when I look at the beautiful pieces that hang on my office wall loaned to my Department from the Contemporary Art Bank.

Making art available in state offices was a brilliant way to remind us that creativity is and should be a part of our everyday lives.

That kind of collaboration is already at work in the Parnell Administration. In tourism, we’re working to promote the cultural importance of our state and the incredible places where our visitors can experience Alaska’s culture first-hand.

The art community has been partnering with our state parks with the “Artists in the Parks” and the “Poems in Place” programs so that visitors can both see the vast wonders of our state and imagine the beauty of what they can’t see.

In education, the cultural collaborations to develop lifelong learning through the arts is alive and growing and in our economic development we recognize the role that the creative economy plays through arts, crafts, theater, dance and writing in our overall wellbeing.

The State Arts Council and the Alaska Humanities Forum has recognized the need for collaboration and connectivity. The Arts Council strategic plan calls for greater stability in the creative sector of Alaska’s economy, more arts education in K-12, more jobs for artists, more public art, more awareness about the importance art plays in our lives and, of course, more funding for it.

It was 50 years ago that President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts. And in doing so, he reminded us that “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation.”

The Alaska State Council on the Arts and Alaska Humanities Forum represent many of the artists, historians and cultural leaders who have been instrumental in carrying on and preserving this colorful heritage. Art, and artists, have a great capacity for bringing people together and elevating the human condition. In addition to aesthetic benefit, art also can provide economic benefit.

So it is appropriate that we recognize some of them here tonight, during National Arts and Humanities Month.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge Charlotte Fox who is retiring after a long and illustrious career as the Arts Council Executive Director, and in honor of Charlotte’s dedication and long service, I leave you with a verse or two from “Long Before We Got Here: Long After We’re Gone,” by Peggy Shumaker, our state’s writer laureate:

Someone who’s gone before

broke trail, set tracks.

With the right kick wax,

we make our way among birch

breathing hard rare frosted light.

We make of light arpeggio crystals,

caribou dance fans, shush

of bristles. One moment made

alive, human, unafraid.

All that’s lost not gone.

Thank you for all you do. I am honored by the opportunity to be here to share this moment with you.