The Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) works to ensure that Alaskans benefit from and enjoy the arts in their daily lives. ASCA’s programs are varied and vibrant: operating support grants for arts organizations of all sizes across Alaska; small grants for individual artists and community arts projects; the Silver Hand Alaska Native Arts authentication program; and a vigorous array of investments in arts education so all Alaskan students experience art in their daily scholastic endeavors. ASCA collaborates with the Governor’s Office to sponsor the Governor’s Awards for the Arts &Humanities, and with the Alaska Humanities Forum to administer the Alaska State Writer Laureate program.
In 2016, Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins introduced a bill to create an Alaska arts license plate competition, inviting artists to submit designs for selection of a group of finalists whose proposed plate designs would be voted on by Alaskans. Former Senator Bill Stoltze of Chugiak helpfully allowed the arts license plates legislation to be added to his bill creating license plates to support Alaska’s blood banks. Senate Bill 154 was signed into law in early June of 2016 and since then a robust process has been underway that will soon let Alaskans express their enthusiasm for the arts on their motor vehicles.
SB 154 provided for a two-step competitive process to stimulate maximum creativity and encourage reflections of the beauty of Alaska. Initial submissions from artists yielded a pool of 142 pieces to be considered by a panel of distinguished Alaskans. This committee included Alaska’s First Lady Donna Walker and two legislators, the aforementioned Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins and Sen. Mia Costello of Anchorage. Joining these public officials were Roy Agloinga of the Rasmuson Foundation, Ketchikan author and artist Ray Troll, choreographer and Pamyua founder Phillip Blanchett and musher Aliy Zirkle. Juneau filmmaker, businessman, and ASCA trustee Pat Race both served on the selection panel and has been integral to co-ordinating the entire project. He helped designate the project Alaska Artistic License (subtitled Plate Stars of Gold) with a bear saying “Yay for Art” bringing it all together. Pat designed the impressive website (https://alaskaartisticlicense.org/) in a volunteer capacity.
This selection panel of Alaskans had a very difficult task in reviewing and considering all the entries, and distilling an ocean of art into a teacup of only five candidates for voting. The five entries included a raven profile, salmon swimming upstream, Denali with fireweed, a moon over mountains, and a silhouetted cache (both the last two with the Northern Lights aglow). The panel considered overall design submission and effective use of images celebrating Alaska, and five finalists were posted online. When voting opened, people were allowed to rank each discrete piece of this quintet of final art on a scale of one to five. This cumulative voting ended on the last day of October, after over 15,000 votes had been cast. If you missed the chance to vote, you can still see the five finalists at https://alaskaartisticlicense.org/vote/.
The poll results will be screened for duplicates and other possible errors, and the final Alaska Artistic License Plate will be announced by the end of November. The final arts plate design will be made into plate stock by the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles and should be available for purchase by spring of 2018. Arts license plates will join many other worthy causes, such as the Alaska Children’s Trust, as options for Alaskan motorists to purchase. While Alaska Artistic License Plates won’t be sold in a number that will generate large sums like they do in places like California, they will not only pay their way, but provide an outlet for both Alaskan artists and Alaskans to express themselves.
The winning design will be available by DMV for the next four years, until ASCA holds the next competition. This window of time will allow for a review of the way the program is working and for changes to make it work better if necessary. Alaska Artistic License plates will be enjoyable to see on Alaska’s roads and highways from here on out, and all forms of earned income are welcome in the current fiscal environment. Alaska Artistic License is an excellent addition to ASCA’s portfolio of services to Alaskans.