Gov. Bill Walker and almost a quarter of the Alaska Legislature attended Thursday night’s Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities, but the most popular person might have been someone who wasn’t there — President Donald Trump.
As Alaska’s arts luminaries accepted the state’s top honors, speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of the arts and urged those in attendance to speak against cuts proposed to federally funded arts organizations.
“Don’t let that happen, and continue to support public funding for the arts at every level,” said Charlotte Fox, who accepted the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award.
On the day before the inauguration, the federal government-focused newspaper The Hill reported that Trump staffers have outlined plans to eliminate or drastically cut support for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.
That plan is expected to follow a blueprint drawn up by the Heritage Foundation.
Rosita Worl of the Sealaska Heritage Institute referenced a “severe crisis” with regard to arts funding, and other speakers used words like “challenges” and “overcoming obstacles.”
Benjamin Brown, chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, acknowledged that talking about arts funding in that audience was preaching to the choir, but that didn’t prevent others from alluding to the president’s planned cuts.
Discussions about the importance of funding the arts are a perennial topic at the Governor’s Awards, but those pleas this year had a different tone.
The emcee of the event, Ryan Conarro, set that tone early with inauguration-themed jokes about the size of the Thursday night crowd.
Gov. Bill Walker, who attended the inauguration, remarked to laughter, “I honestly would’ve counted if I’d known it was going to be a big deal.”
Haines writer Heather Lende, who received an award for distinguished service to the humanities, spoke about the importance of the arts: “People a thousand years from now must know we were more than what appeared in our headlines and our tweets.”
• Bob Banghart (Juneau), Distinguished Service to the Humanities [Read more here: Banghart wins Distinguished Service award]
• Heather Lende (Haines), Distinguished Service to the Humanities [Read more here: Haines non-fiction writer chosen for Distinguished Service to the Humanities]
• Shirley Mae Springer Staten (Anchorage)
• Robert Sparks (Kenai), Alaska Studies Educator of the Year
• Marilyn Davidson (Kodiak), Arts Education
• Kathleen Carlo Kendall (Fairbanks), Alaska Native Arts
• Lani Hotch (Klukwan), Arts Business Leadership [Read more here: Lani Hotch wins Arts Business Leadership award]
• Lance Petersen (Homer), Individual Artist
• Charlotte Fox (Anchorage), Lifetime Achievement in the Arts
• Ernestine Hayes (Juneau), Alaska State Writer Laureate [Read more here: Ernestine Hayes, Tlingit professor and writer from Juneau, selected as next Alaska State Writer Laureate]