Project: ArtShops 2017 Alumni Room       
Alaska State Council on the Arts Partnership
Story by: Mary Goddard

The ArtShops program is a collaboration between the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and The CIRI Foundation’s A Journey to What Matters: Increased Alaska Native Arts and Culture grant program. Established in 2016, ArtShops support emerging Alaska Native arts leaders to develop their skills in leading community-based arts programs.


The ArtShop “Alumni Room” was the seed for what will become the Alumni Building, a permanent community building on the campus of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Since the 1800’s, the land that is now the Sitka Fine Arts Campus has been used for many things including a Presbyterian School, an Industrial School, The Sheldon Jackson High School, the Sheldon Jackson College, and most recently, since 2011, it been home to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Through the various changes this beautiful campus has gone through, many community members have felt a great connection the campus and its rich history. Living in Sitka, you can almost feel the ache and hear the call for someone to share the history, tell the stories and very importantly make room for a place for all of this to be shared.
As a Board member of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, I was aware of the need, but not really sure how to help answer the call. Through the opportunity of the ArtShop I was able to share my thoughts and feelings about this with the Alaska State Council on the Arts and begin the process through the ArtShop.

My results of sharing this idea and starting Phase 1 of the Alumni Room through the ArtShop went beyond my expectations. The first conversation was with the Executive Director and then with the Board of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. They all had very positive reactions and were all on board for starting to plan an Alumni Room. The Executive Director set up a meeting with the Building Committee to start thinking about which room or building would best be suited for the Alumni Room. Secondly the President of the SFAC spoke at the Sharing our Knowledge Conference, whose focus this year was healing from traumatic history, sharing the Alumni Room decision. Sam, the President of SFAC was so excited about the Alumni Room that he purchased an old Telephone booth to be transformed into a recording booth for the Alumni Room.

The conversations continued with various individuals. I met with Rebecca Poulson, a historian and artist, she then introduced me to alumni from the Sheldon Jackson College who then told me stories and promised to help on the alumni room, if only I would “hurry up”, since they aren’t getting any younger they reiterated. One Alumni is eagerly awaiting the room to happen, she is willing to part with a collection of Year books from the Sheldon Jackson College that she expects to be safe and shared in the space.

Rebecca, as a contributing artist pulled out one of her old (created in 1995 to help raise money to save the building) print blocks of the Richard H Allen Memorial Building (a building on the Campus) and made a print, and framed it for a piece of art for the Alumni Room.

Jennifer, a local Tlingit Artist, created a Tinaa, in conversation telling me how Tinaa’s have a T pounded into the copper, representing the Backbone of our Ancestors. How appropriate for this space, as this land has become such a backbone of education and history in this little Sitka community, and for Alaska. Jennifer also donated another Tinaa titled “Two Skins.”

As a contributing artist, I reached out to local carpenter Larry Pouliot. After discussing the alumni room we thought it would be fitting to create some furniture. Larry gathered reclaimed wood that used to be part of a building on campus, an old staircase. Larry did the carpentry work and I cut and carved copper to be inlaid. I choose to carve Salmon eggs, salmon and a river to represent the Hatchery that was started on campus. I also liked the transformation of the salmon eggs to whole salmon, as a symbol of growth, change and cycles, something all of us can relate to.

As an artist and a leader on this project, I would suggest that artist work with non-profits or organizations that want artwork in their buildings, on their websites and printed documents. Starting conversations and really investigating what story it is they want to tell as an organization. It is a very effective way to bring community members together. In itself it becomes a lesson, and even a way for artists and the organization to grow and stretch. Art is a means to tell a story, cause others to stop and reflect and it becomes a gateway for oral history, a very indigenous method of teaching and passing down knowledge. I think one way of sustaining arts and future workshops is to seek out the organizations and let them begin conversations with artists. Allowing the artist to think of creative ways to really tell the story and bring others together.