OUR HOME FOR THE ARTS
Juneau has been a wonderful home base for many artists (including myself) during the forty years I’ve lived here. But unlike many other Alaskan communities, we haven’t ever truly had a home we can call our own, where visual artists, performing artists, and the wonderfully supportive people who appreciate what we do can come together…At least not a home we can be proud of. I have worked on theatrical or musical events at Perseverance Theatre (including way back when it was a converted liquor store), Centennial Hall, most Juneau schools, various bars and restaurants, several churches, the Elks’ Club, VFW Hall, Noyes Pavilion, Sandy Beach, an old hardware store, under a tarp at the UAS campus, and in a tent pitched on the downtown wharf. While each place had its own unique charms, what has been so badly needed is a center, a gathering place the community owns and respects: a real home for the arts.
Communities worldwide are remembered and defined by cultural and artistic monuments, whether they be the soaring spires of an Italian Renaissance palace or the soaring clan poles of a traditional Tlingit village. Haines has a great arts center. Sitka has two. And what do we have? A beat-up old former armory that has been lovingly propped up and used heavily by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council and the people of Juneau, but one that is quite worn out. Some people can’t attend events there because of allergies to the mold and mildew that plague the place. It has been the center for a startling variety of artistic and community events, demonstrating an enormous need we have for such a place.
But now imagine the New JACC – a multi-use, dedicated building, functionally and architecturally beautiful, that can proudly take its place among the recent triumphs that so enrich Juneau: the Alaska State Museum and Walter Soboleff Center. One replaced an undersized piece of concrete brutalism, the other a shameful hole in the ground that was a blight in our city for years. I don’t think anyone can deny that these two buildings make Juneau a more compelling town in which to live or visit.
JDHS and TMHS have great auditoria, but they (quite rightly) give priority to students. The churches are good for churches, the bars and restaurants for bars and restaurants. And as for tarps and performances on Sandy Beach… sooner or later, the smoke gets in your eyes.
Most arts projects came about because of patronage of one kind of another, whether it be the de Medicis, an opposite clan, or a government. A remarkable fact about the JAHC in the old armory is that it has actually been self-sustaining and sometimes profitable. A McDowell Feasibility Study of the New JACC shows it in the black after three years of operation with an annual profit of $50,000. And this isn’t even counting an immersive summer experience for tourists that could greatly increase that. There have been and will no doubt continue to be naysayers who challenge the findings of the highly respected and neutral McDowell Group, but significantly they haven’t offered any research of their own. They argue that the arts are not a necessity, but some kind of luxury. I maintain that the arts are, in fact, an absolute human necessity, dating all the way back to when our ancestors painted images on the walls of caves.
The New JACC needs a boost from the people of Juneau. It’s only asking for about 20% of its cost, to be paid using sales tax revenue already in the coffers. The rest will come from grants, endowments, businesses, individuals.
The arts aren’t free, any more than schools or hockey rinks or fire departments are free. The arts challenge and elevate us. They give us elation and joy, they give voice to our fears and our grief. They help us frame who we are as a community and a people.
40,000 people walked through the doors of our old armory last year. Many more than that will come to the new JACC. Juneau was rated an incredible #6 in the USA in the Creativity Index of the Western States Arts Foundation. Number six in the nation. We are known throughout the state as not only the government capital, but the arts capital. The New JACC will be an enormous source of pride for our dynamic, diverse, creative community.
Surely it’s time we gave the arts a home of their own.
Dave Hunsaker is a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. In 1985 he received the Governor’s Award for the Arts, and in 2014 was given an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska, Southeast. He is an adopted member of the Lukaax.ádi (Sockeye) Clan of the Tlingit Nation.