As we in the capital city once again enjoy welcoming legislators, staff, and other Alaskans to Juneau for the legislative session, it reminds us of all the good things about our town.
We are constantly trying to improve facilities and access, and while there will always be more to do, there are some notable successes that stand out. The new parking garage and transit center at the foot of Main Street is exemplary of this trend, which has many manifestations. The Juneau Arts & Culture Center, or the JACC, is among the best things Juneau has going for year-round residents and seasonal visitors — strong affection for the JACC explains how it was affectionately tagged with this nickname early on, one by which it is now universally known.
The JACC was built in 1959 to serve as Juneau’s National Guard armory, which it did admirably for decades, hosting many community events of all kinds when not in formal use for defense and disaster preparedness. The late Sen. Ted Stevens was able to secure federal funding for a new armory built out the road in conjunction with a recreation center the University of Alaska Southeast, leaving the old armory vacant in 2004. The City and Borough of Juneau acquired the facility and contracted with the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council (JAHC) to manage and run the JACC. JAHC is designated by ordinance as the arts agency for the city, and was in a great position to continue the tradition of community use of this particular building.
Before the JACC really got going there was concern on the JAHC Board (where I served) about whether it would be a success, and if the capital city would embrace and support such a multi-use facility. In hindsight these doubts seem almost silly, as the JACC has been a resounding success.
When JAHC took over the old armory, it was certainly showing nearly half a century of regular wear and usage. The JAHC Board and staff rallied hundreds of volunteers from the community in September 2007 to invest thousands of hours of skilled labor to clean, renovate and create what is now the JACC. These efforts and many donations of cash and in-kind supplies and expertise allowed the JACC to open in October of that year.
As we look forward to the JACC’s fifth birthday this fall, we see the benefits of further improvements that have been made more recently. There are beautiful wooden cabinets in the lobby donated by Kathy and John Ellis and lovely exterior painting done by Herr’s Painting (which has committed to maintaining this beautiful façade as needed in future). Highly functioning, event-friendly accessories are available inside the JACC: plenty of comfortable yet stackable chairs made possible by funding from the Rasmuson Foundation (which also helped buy the 7-foot concert grand piano), flexible stage infrastructure, and ever-improving sound and lighting capabilities. Even the Alaska Legislature has invested in the JACC with $100,000 in capital budget funds for two projects, leveraging substantial private-sector support.
While it will never be a fancy, new facility, the JACC now looks as good as it ever has, inside and out. It hosts JAHC’s offices as well as those of Juneau Jazz & Classics, another of Juneau’s beloved and renowned cultural institutions, and rents to a commercial sound studio that serves Juneau’s talented musical community. The outstanding appearance and quality and range of services available at the JACC are directly reflected in the amount of use it now sees on a regular basis throughout the year.
In the past year alone, more than 20,000 people have visited the JACC, for public and private events ranging from educational conferences to parties, concerts, receptions, poetry recitations, and film showings. Groups using the JACC include the Alaska Legislature, the Association for the Education of Young Children, the League of Women Voters, Hospice & Home Care of Juneau, and many families and businesses hosting private celebrations. The JACC is an excellent partner with city-run Centennial Hall next door, serving as essential and complementary overflow space for events like the incredibly well-attended Public Market every winter, which has outgrown Centennial Hall and couldn’t happen without the JACC. The Alaska Folk Festival uses the JACC (just as it did the old armory), Celebration takes place here, and, perhaps the best example of the two facilities in use at once, the smash “Tuxes to Xtratufs inaugural event last year.
The JACC employs almost 10 Juneau residents (mostly part time) which alongside the number of events illustrates just how the JACC continues to benefit the local and regional economy. From visual to performing arts, to whatever social or community event you may wish to hold in just the right size of venue, the JACC is there for you. No matter how you look at it, the JACC is a great community asset and a big success, improving our quality of life, offering unique services, and helping the economy thrive. Creativity and economic success go hand in hand and the JACC is the perfect example of how strategic use of a particular space can make such magic results happen.
• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.