Museum crosses fingers for funding

Alaska House includes museum money, but Senate looks other way

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

Most museums have backlogs of artifacts stored in the basement, but the Alaska State Museum in downtown Juneau is so cramped it has to turn down donations.

Instead of being tightly sealed in environmentally safe lockers, some tribal masks and rusted mining equipment clutter shelves.

"I'm kind of embarrassed to show you some of these items here because they are out in the open," said curator Steve Henrikson, walking through the museum's storeroom Thursday.

The museum has had no expansion to its location on Whittier Street since it was built in 1967. But the state museum, archives and historical library may get some relief if the Alaska Legislature approves $1.4 million for blueprints and design work on expansions or a new facility.

The item was in the governor's budget proposal, but not included in the Senate version, which opted to spend a larger chunk of money on school construction projects.

The House amended its draft Wednesday to include the museum funding. But after the House votes, the budget will need to go into a conference committee, which can remove items that are contentious.

"It's up in the air," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau. He said the Juneau delegation needs to fight for the funding. Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula and Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch support it.

Ideally, the Alaska Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums wants to either rebuild or expand the museum to house all three facilities. The museum already has 1.4 acres set aside on its property for possible expansion.

The funding would allow planners to estimate the cost of such a project and begin fundraising. Other possible sources include federal, state and city money.

Henrikson would like more exhibition space to show World War II remnants, pieces of steamships and Russian artifacts left over from before the United States purchased Alaska.

The museum doesn't have room for larger items such as aircraft and wagons, which are on loan to collections in Anchorage and Wasilla.

The archives and historical library are located in the State Office Building, which is seeing its share of wear and tear.

"There's a crack in the foundation big enough where I can stick my arm through it," said Henrikson about the archives. Documents are also threatened by leaky pipes.

A boiler room explosion at the museum a few years ago ruined several artifacts that required extensive cleaning. Henrikson said if they were in proper storage spaces, the collection would not get damaged.

Henrikson also remarked how the Legislature continuously approves funding for museums in Anchorage.

Elton said one reason is that it's a larger city with more visitors. The other could be political.

"It's to be expected when half the legislators are from one community," Elton said.

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