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Rasmuson Foundation is a powerful force for good

Posted: December 30, 2012 - 1:05am

This year’s holiday season in the Capital City has been cold and wintry in Southeast Alaska; Alaskans farther north have endured more brutal conditions. The Juneau Empire’s recent publication of variety of reflections on people’s most memorable and favorite arts experiences in the last year was like a warming bonfire of appreciation for how much the arts and culture invigorate life here in Juneau. Hearing from so many great local voices was reaffirmation of the widely held belief that Juneau is blessed with phenomenal artists, audiences, advocates, and appreciative minds.

The Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) on which I serve as chairman has striven since its creation in 1966 to foster art development for all Alaskans through education, partnerships, grants, and services. In earlier years ASCA’s budget has varied widely, but for the past decade ASCA has received stable support for educational, grant, art bank, and other programs in the operating budget, fully matching Alaska’s allocation from the National Endowment for the Arts.

ASCA’s grants to arts organizations are merit-based, with a challenging application process and careful scrutiny. Most major arts organizations in Alaska apply for and receive ASCA operating support, but the maximum amount of any grant is $21,000, awarded to only the highest-scoring applicants. While this is a significant amount of money, it can serve as only a cornerstone and an imprimatur of quality as arts administrators and volunteer boards build sustainable budgets for arts organizations in their Alaskan communities. Individual artists face a different set of challenges in making their visions into reality, and ASCA grants to individual artists are by necessity much smaller than those going to organizations.

Fortunately for ASCA and for all Alaskans, the Rasmuson Foundation has been playing a crucially supportive role in ensuring that Alaskans have ample access to arts and culture. Since its creation four years before statehood, Rasmuson has supported good things in Alaska, living proof of the motto, “helping others is an Alaskan tradition.” From a first grant of only $125, Rasmuson has become an increasingly powerful force improving quality of life in the Great Land. With the large influx of resources bequeathed by the late Elmer Rasmuson in 2002, the past decade has seen Rasmuson’s presence magnified tremendously, with concomitant positive results.

This past week the Rasmuson Board committed to continuing its targeted support in four program areas with a stunning budget of $8.5 million to accomplish this work. The goals are simple and laudable: a diverse, vibrant Alaskan arts community, stronger cultural institutions, new creative product from Alaskan artists, and more public access to and participation in cultural experiences by Alaskans.

Rasmuson’s Individual Artist Awards will directly support artists working in Alaska with $7,500 project awards, $18,000 fellowships, and a $40,000 distinguished artist award. Alaskan artists can apply for these awards as of the 1st of January 2013, with 30 awards planned for distribution.

Rasmuson Foundation seeks to encourage Alaskan youth to be creative and imaginative, and to express themselves, because this makes for better Alaskan adults. The Arts in Education Program is administered by ASCA for Rasmuson and will continue providing four different kinds of support to ensure that Alaskan schoolchildren benefit from the infusion of the arts into their educational experiences. In the coming weeks specific new program enhancements will be announced to help rural school districts teach more arts, promote cultural heritage, and integrate arts into math and science teaching (STEAM).

The Harper Arts Touring Program, also administered by ASCA, will continue to connect Alaskan performers and traveling exhibits to Alaskan audiences and museum-goers with funds for travel and freight expenses. The Art Acquisition Fund is run by Museums Alaska, and will continue to provide resources for Alaskan museums to build and formally improve their collections by purchasing work from living Alaskan artists.

Rasmuson Foundation gives to many different organizations and individuals in communities across the Alaska, and Juneau is well-represented among the ranks of those beneficiaries. All Juneauites probably know an organization or individual artist who has benefited from Rasmuson’s support. The individuals range from established icons like Rie Muñoz to emerging artists.

Brandon Demery is a talented local actor and director who received a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award for presentation/interpretation. He used his grant to build a budget to direct, design, and perform in a one-man show called “I Am My Own Wife.” This was a complex project that traveled to Anchorage where I got to see it, and it was both a challenge and a success. While the Individual Artist Award wasn’t the only thing that made this project possible, it allowed Brandon to undertake an ambitious show with high production values and a professional creative team. Brandon strengthened existing and made new contacts in the Alaskan theatre community and grew as an actor. His project continues to live, with re-investment of the proceeds from the shows in Anchorage and Douglas into its return to the stage in May and June 2013 in both communities. Rasmuson’s investment has positive artistic and economic benefits for the recipient and for every one who gets to enjoy the show.

The Alaskan tradition of helping others ought not to be left to our friends at the Rasmuson Foundation, and the 1st of January presents another opportunity for all Alaskans to reach out and make the Last Frontier a better place. When you apply for your Permanent Fund Dividend, it is a good thing to allocate whatever amount you are willing to forego to a worthy cause (artistic or otherwise) through Pick.Click.Give. This program has been supported strongly by Rasmuson since its inception and grows by leaps and bounds every year. Here’s hoping that 2013 will be the biggest year yet.

• Brown serves as Chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and is an attorney who lives in Juneau.

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