We hope you are taking time out of your busy lives to enjoy summer whether you are in Alaska or far away. Like many of you, we are easing back into in-person events from a year-plus of virtual gatherings and meetings. Check out some of what we have been up to in our latest monthly newsletter. — Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO

Big step forward

Anchorage has reached a milestone in its effort to solve homelessness. We now are confident we know who is experiencing homelessness — a critical step in a system to get everyone housed. Our partner, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, has led in this effort to build a list with everyone’s names. This will help the community ensure no one gets lost or left behind. The process, overseen by the organization Community Solutions, is rigorous, typically taking a city years to build a complete and accurate list of names. Anchorage stands out as the first community to do so for all sub-populations including youth and families, and it did so faster than most despite the pandemic.

Focusing on Alaska’s natural environment

Rasmuson Foundation’s leadership team joined the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation board and leaders for part of their recent tour of Alaska. Pictured here from Rasmuson Foundation: Jeff Baird, Alexandra McKay, Julee Farley and Angela Cox.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently brought its board and staff leadership to Alaska for the third time. We ensured they landed in the right places and connected with the right people, from participating in the Neqa Derby with Bristol Bay Native Corp. CEO and Foundation Board member Jason Metrokin to a visit with Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) to a stop at the Eklutna dam. In fiscal year 2020, the organization awarded 17 grants totaling $3.3 million to Alaska projects. In Point Hope, the City received funds to help local residents to identify areas of shoreline vulnerable to erosion and begin design of resilient solutions. In Shaktoolik, natural local materials are being used to construct a storm surge berm and protect the community from destructive erosion. Near Anchorage, an award to Trout Unlimited will continue the effort to restore salmon runs on the Eklutna River by removing the old dam, a project we supported with a $250,000 Tier 2 grant to The Conservation Fund in 2017.

Celebrating — and selecting — artists

Delayed by the pandemic, our celebration of 2020 Project Award and Fellowship recipients was carried out in a way that was meaningful and joyful despite being virtual. Yup’ik culture bearer Marie Meade, a 2019 awardee, opened the event in May with a song. We featured short films celebrating each awardee, and we heard from Foundation Board member Judy Rasmuson, who, as an artist herself, understands the pain and joy of creation, how art changes the artist and those experiencing it.

“Art is sparked by ideas that are nurtured by creativity,” Judy told the audience, which numbered close to 100. “But art is made by hard work, work that is driven by excitement, anxiety, despair and wonder.”

If you haven’t seen the bonus video, a new addition this year, I invite you to take a moment to watch it by clicking here.

Not a dry eye

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo surprised our 2021 Distinguished Artist Ernestine Hayes at our recent celebration.

Two weeks later, we announced and recognized 2021 Distinguished Artist Ernestine Hayes of Juneau, a former Alaska State Writer Laureate and professor emerita at University of Alaska Southeast. She is best known for “Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir,” which won the American Book Award. We were thrilled that U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma, spoke about Ernestine at the event. Board member Adam Gibbons tied it all together with a story about the intrinsic value of art. “Without artists who strip themselves bare and share their most personal perspectives with us through their art, life would be pretty bland indeed,” Adam said. Board member Curtis McQueen also spoke of his connection to Ernestine’s story, and Board Vice Chair Cathy Rasmuson and members Jay Gibbons, Angela Salazar and Rebecca Brice Henderson all attended. Be sure to watch the mini-documentary by Pat Race. You can enjoy the whole celebration on our YouTube channel.

Coming soon: 2021 awardees

Meanwhile, we will announce our 2021 Project Award and Fellowship recipients later this year. Artists and art experts from Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, California, South Dakota, Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and Pennsylvania served on the selection panel for 10 $18,000 Fellowships and 25 $7,500 Project Awards. By having judges from outside Alaska, every applicant has a fair shot, as the evaluation is based purely on the work samples rather than reputation. From our team, Enzina Marrari, a program officer and two-time IAA recipient, and Tristan Agnauraq, a fellow in the Momentum program, supported the artist selection process.

Radio leverage

With the pandemic in its second year, Fairbanks public broadcasting station KUAC decided to run another May One Match — its MOM Day challenge — on May 1. The station, which includes TV 9 and FM station 89.9, wanted to build its matching pot and leverage even more support for public broadcasting from communities throughout Interior Alaska.

Board member Rebecca Brice Henderson contributed $5,000 through a Foundation discretionary grant and encouraged others to step up. Seventeen other community supporters did so, building the pot of matching gifts to nearly $40,000, almost double last year’s level. “We were nervous!” said Gretchen Gordon, KUAC general manager. “But our anxiety was all for naught.” The match was more than met. At the end of the day, the effort raised nearly $130,000 for KUAC.

A voice in a national arts program

Four Alaska organizations have been picked to receive Our Town grants, the creative placemaking program of the National Endowment for the Arts. They are: Alaska Native Heritage Center, $25,000; Anchorage Museum, $100,000; Bunnell Street Art Center, $50,000; and Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, $75,000. Enzina Marrari, a program officer and practicing artist, participated on a selection panel. Our Town integrates arts, culture and design into efforts that strengthen communities. Note: The NEA’s announcement included a photo featuring T.J. Young, a 2020 IAA recipient.

Congratulations to Gloria O’Neill

Gloria O’Neill, president and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, is a gifted leader whose programs have helped youth graduate from high school and families regain their children from state custody. Those suffering from alcohol misuse have gotten support for getting sober. The unemployed or recently incarcerated have gotten jobs. Now her good work has been recognized by Alaska Humanities Forum through its Leadership Anchorage Alumni Award, for which we nominated her. Angela Cox, VP of external affairs, gave an inspirational keynote at the Leadership Anchorage virtual celebration in May. O’Neill was one of the first graduates of the leadership development program, in 1998.

Back in the office

After reviewing vaccination rates among staff and the new CDC and Anchorage COVID-19 guidelines, we are easing back into the physical office. Starting June 1, staff returned to the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Accommodations will be made for staff members with health conditions that prevent them from getting the vaccine.

Walking to support Healthy Futures

Rasmuson Foundation staff and significant others joined in on the 2021 100 Miles in May challenge to help raise funds for Healthy Futures Alaska, a program of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame that encourages daily physical activity for Alaska youth. This year we had 20 team members, more than in the last few years. In-person walking gatherings were held at the Dome and at the track at Special Olympics Alaska.