In December, NHA worked with the Alaska Humanities Forum (AHF) to host a virtual event with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office. In addition to thanking Senator Murkowski for her ongoing support of the humanities, we aimed to showcase the long-term impact of NEH and AHF funding on Alaska’s cultural institutions and consider how the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect them.
Staff from libraries, museums, and Native Alaskan organizations throughout the state attended the event. Following an introduction from Kameron Perez-Verdia, AHF’s executive director, speakers shed light on the impact NEH and AHF funding has had on Alaska institutions while addressing three central questions.
How has your programming supported Alaskan communities during this year of crisis?
Rosita Worl, executive director of the Sealaska Heritage Institute spoke about how NEH funding to digitize films of the biennial Celebrations—events honoring Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures—helped Sealaska offer a virtual Celebration to bring people together, even though the in-person event had to be canceled.
What are your persistent challenges?
Anjuli Grantham, curator of statewide services at the Alaska State Museum, noted that Alaska’s museums are especially dependent on tourism money that was basically nonexistent in 2020. As a result, the NEH and AHF grants awarded to the state’s cultural institutions through the CARES Act were especially appreciated. Jennifer Gibbins, executive director of Homer’s Pratt Museum, elaborated upon the ongoing financial struggle museums are facing without ticket sales.
How have NEH & AHF grants, including CARES grants, been helpful to you?
Sarah Harrington, executive director of the Kodiak Historical Society spoke about how a past AHF grant for a community conversation about homelessness helped the society in its mission to decolonize their museum, as well as how an NEH CARES grant is supporting their work now. Mark John and Ann Riordan of Calista Education and Culture, spoke about how NEH funding had supported their work documenting the language and stories of the Yup’ik people, as well as how AHF funding supports their culture camps for teachers. And Julie Decker, CEO of the Anchorage Museum, spoke about how NEH and AHF funding has enabled cultural institutions to push forward into digital frontiers and advance their missions, even during this difficult time.
Both Senator Murkowski and her staff took time to address those gathered, emphasizing their appreciation for the crucial role humanities organizations play in Alaskan communities, as well as the importance of federal support in enabling the work of those institutions.
All in all, the event was a good opportunity to bring together representatives of humanities institutions from all over Alaska. We hope it is one of many such conversations.
Thumbnail image: Image by DrRandomFactor from Wikimedia Commons.