Art for all children

Juneau second-graders visit Soboleff Building as part of ongoing collaboration
Tlingit weaver and teacher Lily Hope guides Auke Bay Elementary School second graders through the cultural exhibit in the Walter Soboleff Center on Nov. 19. The event was part of the Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program, which was founded by the Kennedy Center to create full access to arts education programs and resources for K-8 students. The Kennedy Center works with 18 sites in the country and Juneau is one of them. Starting in November, all second-grade students in the Juneau School District began to go on annual arts excursions to the Walter Soboleff Building to learn about the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.

For a few days at the end of September, all the second graders in the Juneau School District sat in Shuká Hit, the clan house in Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building, listening to storyteller Lily Hudson Hope and learning about Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian customs. Next year’s second graders will do the same, as will the next, as part of an ongoing initiative from many collaborators to give all of Juneau’s kids arts excursions every year.


These second graders were full of questions.

One wanted to know about the custom of fire dishes.

“How do you burn it and send it up?” he asked of the food in a fire dish, which Hope told the kids sends food to a deceased loved one. Hope was telling the kids about payoff parties, when people of one moiety, a year after a family member has died, tell stories, sing, dance, host a feast, and give gifts to people of the other moiety.

Other kids wanted to volunteer information about their own heritage.

“I’m a Dog Salmon,” one told the room, after Hope identified Walter Soboleff’s clan (he was also a Dog Salmon.)

“My grandma has a robe like that,” another kid commented, shown a Haida beaver button blanket made by Selina Peratrovich and donated for display by her daughter, renowned weaver Delores Churchill.

Hope also told kids about the differences between button blankets and Chilkat robes.

“We learned that it takes a year to make a (Chilkat) cloak,” said third grader Lena Field. (In contrast, Hope said it takes her mother, Clarissa Rizal, who creates a lot of them, about 10 days to make a button blanket.)

Shaina Fernandez said Hope’s rendition of the story about Raven losing his nose was her favorite part of the trip.

“I liked it when the fishermen pulled the beak out,” she said. (Raven’s under the ocean, stealing the seal fat the fishermen are using as halibut bait. Fortunately for Raven, he figures out a way to trick people and gets it back.)

Anna Haggerty’s favorite part was seeing Singletary’s glass house screen; Jamal Canon’s was going into Shuká Hit.

Their lessons extended beyond that day, however. K-5 Art Specialist Nancy Lehnhart visited with kids ahead of time for a pre-trip lesson, said Juneau Arts and Humanities Council education committee chair Mandy Mallott. Each kid colored in part of a miniature replica of Singletary’s glass house screen.

At Auke Bay Elementary School, Paula Kalbrener’s class also created an e-book about Walter Soboleff, Mallott said.

Fellow teacher Davin Savikko and Lehnhart also worked together on a song about ovoids, the central shapes in Northwest Coast formline design.

The expeditions are elements of a partnership with big goals: to provide arts excursions for every grade level in the Juneau School District. It’s part of a Kennedy Center program, “Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child.”

Juneau is one of 18 places the center works with around the country, said an SHI release. Partners are an important part of the effort: the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, the Juneau School District, and Behrends Mechanical, Inc. also worked to make the trips a reality, as did others.

This year, 8th graders visited Perseverance Theatre for its performance of ‘Othello,’ and 5th graders will see the Juneau Symphony perform.

“…This is just one project, but it’s such a positive example of wonderful teaching and community experiences for all second graders in our district,” Mallott wrote in an email.

Maybe student Tarin Valle summed up his experience of the trip — and why arts educators know such efforts are important — best.

“All of it was my favorite,” he said. “It was my first time being there.”

To read a blog about the effort, check out



• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Mary Catharine Martin at


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