Artist Danielle Larsen is a contemporary illustrator and painter with Unangan Aleut, Koyukaon Athabascan, Inupiaq, and European ancestry. She is a recipient of TCF’s scholarships and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Alaska Native Art from the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) partnered with The CIRI Foundation (TCF) for a Heritage Project titled “Honoring Place”. As Cook Inlet Housing was preparing to build its first affordable housing development in downtown Anchorage, we began talking with TCF about a unique opportunity to acknowledge and uplift Dena’ina land and culture at the development site. This idea became “Honoring Place” and involved finding a partner artist to create unique art for each floor of the building that could help tell the story of Dena’ina land and people for the residents, visitors and community partners. Fine artist and CIRI descendant Danielle Larsen was selected for the project and began her almost yearlong work creating these artworks that depict Dena’ina flora. Once installed each piece of artwork has an accompanying placard that has the Dena’ina plant name and how Dena’ina used each of the plants. It’s a cultural lesson presented in a beautiful piece of art.
In addition to the flora, Danielle also created a portrait of Elizabeth Peratrovich for the lobby of the building, which is named Elizabeth Place in honor of the Alaska Native civil rights leader. This artwork also includes an educational placard describing Elizabeth’s role in the passage of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska, which made it illegal to discriminate in public accommodations and facilities based on race.
The inclusion of these specific Dena’ina plants depicted in the art also provides a sense of welcome and familiarity to our residents. For our CIRI shareholders and descendants it is an acknowledgement of their ancestry and denotes a place of belonging and well being specifically for them.
To celebrate the completion of the project, a Grand Opening and First Friday event was held in December. Event participants included new residents at the building, community partners and funders, as well the community at large. Guests were encourage to explore and learn by visiting each of the artworks and some of the open apartments. At the conclusion guests were asked to participate in a questionnaire so that we could find out if the learned anything new about Elizabeth Peratrovich or Dena’ina land and culture. Survey results showed that they learned many things about Dena’ina land, plants and their uses, as well as just a general acknowledgement that we are living, working and playing on Dena’ina land.
CIHA would like to thank The CIRI Foundation and Danielle Larsen for partnering with us on “Honoring Place”. We are honored to host these works of art within Elizabeth Place and pleased to help acknowledge, preserve and promote Dena’ina land and culture for generations to come.