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Sitka artist wins $50,000 national award

Posted: December 6, 2012 - 1:02am

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska artist whose work has been internationally recognized is among 50 winners of United States Artists Fellowship grants announced on Dec. 3. The artists’ advocacy organization United States Artists said Nicholas Galanin of Sitka will receive an unrestricted grant of $50,000.

Galanin, of Tlingit and Aleut descent, received his award in the Crafts and Traditional Arts category, though his work is anything but traditional. A USA Artists press release acknowledges that “his work might also be described simply as contemporary art with Native themes.”

A musician as well as a visual artist, Galanin creates multi-media pieces that can use computer, photo manipulation or video technology and often incorporate Alaska Native imagery in avant garde formats, like a totem figure carved into the pages of a book, Indonesian-made replicas of Tlingit masks decorated with fancy wall paper, or a hip-hop dancer performing to a Tlingit song.

In one series of photos he took a neon sign reading “No Indians or Dogs Allowed” to various sites and took pictures. His most famous image, an internet viral hit, shows the front end of an alert but reclining wolf with its hind parts merging into a fur rug.

Some might see the “traditional arts” designation is something of a stretch, he admitted.

“But based on my contacts and the people on the panel, it was the right choice,” he said. “A lot of my art comes from the traditional context. But I don’t care what they call it.”

As for the prize money, Galanin said, “I’m saving it. Maybe it will go to buy a home or get my studio built.”

Galanin, who received a Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award in 2011, is presently commuting between Sitka and Victoria, British Columbia, where he is a guest university professor this year.

This is the seventh year that USA, an arts advocacy group, has given fellowship grants. In that time it has given $17.5 million directly to artists, including several Alaskans. Winners are chosen in eight disciplines that include the visual, performing and literary arts.

In addition to Galanin’s USA Artists award, five Alaska organizations will receive a share of nationwide grants from the National Endowment for the Arts announced on Nov. 27. A total of $129,000 will go to the following groups:

• Juneau Jazz & Classics, Inc., $11,000 for the 2013 Jazz & Classics Music Festival.

• Perseverance Theatre, Inc, $20,000 to support the world premiere of “The Defenders of Alaska Native Country,” a new play by Ishmael Hope about Tlingit lawyer William Paul.

• Alaska Arts Southeast, Inc., $33,000 to support arts education at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

• Calista Elders Council, Inc., $45,000 to support Yupiit Yuraryarait, a Yup’ik dance festival, scheduled to take place in March in Chevak.

• Friends of Sheldon Jackson Museum, $20,000 for a project to bring Alaskan Native artists to the Sitka museum for residencies.

The Alaska awards are included in the NEA’s Art Works funding category, which will give 832 grants amounting to more than $23 million to arts groups. Not-for-profit arts organizations in 47 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will receive funding. It is the first round of several grants that will be announced for fiscal year 2013.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has also announced two Preservation Assistance Grants to Alaska organizations holding historic audio and visual material. The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center will receive $5,850. The University of Alaska Fairbanks will receive $6,000.

• Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

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