Foundation to give $20 million in arts funding

Initative is state's first big infusion of arts cash in more than 10 years

Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Almost 100 Juneau residents affiliated with the arts showed up at Centennial Hall on Monday to hear the Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation describe details of its 10-year, $20 million statewide Arts and Culture Initiative.

The foundation announced in December that it plans to dole out $2 million a year for the next 10 years to support creative innovation, institutional advancement, arts in education and public art and design in Alaska. The group's board of directors is ironing out its guidelines and development programs and expects to hand out its first grant by June or July. Application information is available at

"Our board approved this initiative in December and the phone lines started lighting up," said Helen Howarth, Rasmuson arts and culture program officer. "We weren't quite prepared for that. What we decided we would do is go around the state to the major hub cities and give people an overview and let them know what's coming."

Rasmuson is autonomous from any other grant-giver or state organization. It's funded by the estate of late Bank of Alaska leader E.A. Rasmuson.

The Rasmuson initiative is the first major cash infusion for Alaska arts in more than a decade. Almost 15 years ago, the Alaska State Council on the Arts handed out $6 million a year in funding. Since then, the council's budget has shrunk to less than $1 million a year.

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council used to receive $72,000 from the state council. Now, it receives roughly $10,000.

"There's been a huge decline over the last 15 years," JAHC director Sybil Davis said. "So this is an exciting windfall. It's an opportunity that hasn't presented itself at all."

Howarth and Rasmuson president and CEO Diane Kaplan were quick to point out that the $20 million should not replace any state funding or other grant programs. At the mid-February Conference of Alaskans, state budget director Cheryl Frasca presented a "Plan B" budget that included cutting the Alaska State Council on the Arts and reducing funding for the state library and museum.

"The state provides basic operating support for arts organizations, and that's something we won't do and never will do," Kaplan said.

"The initiative is designed to augment the existing support for art around the state," Howarth said. "If the state cuts its art support or the municipalities and the cities decide to cut their art support, it will really undermine the ability of these organizations to participate."

The Rasmuson Foundation was created in 1955. It's first grant was $125 for a movie projector at the Wasilla Presbyterian Church.

The group has traditionally handed out grants for capitol improvements. Recently, the Rasmuson family helped build the Noyes Pavilion at University of Alaska Southeast, provided money for computers and gallery track lighting at the arts council, supported Perseverance Theatre's tour of "The Vagina Monologues" through Barrow, Bethel and Dillingham and helped the Juneau and Nome arts councils bring the Maori group Rangimarie to Alaska this June.

"This is so wonderful and so multi-faceted for groups like Opera to Go and other organizations," said Opera to Go artistic director Joyce Parry Moore, one of many artists at Monday's presentation.

"You don't do things because you don't have permission," Davis said. "Now someone has said, 'We're going to give you resources. You've got permission, so engage your wild mind and do the things that you have creatively dreamed about.' Now people are going to go home and say, 'I have permission, and it is okay to dream this dream.' That's a wonderful thing."

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