Budget cuts threaten Native Arts Foundation

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010

The publicly funded Alaska Native Arts Foundation has had its budget slashed, and it is not clear whether the organization dedicated to promoting the sale of Native art can continue to operate.

The government has provided $600,000 a year to the foundation in recent years. In 2008, the last year for which data is available, the non-profit foundation had expenses of $945,000, according to its publicly available tax return.

Foundation executive director Jonella Larson White has declined repeated requests to provide further information about the organization or the impact of the budget cuts.

The Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership provided the bulk of the foundation's funding. Partnership Executive Director Chris Buchholdt confirmed the funding cut Thursday, which he said would be effective Sept. 30.

Foundation board Chairwoman Alice Rogoff, reached on the East Coast on her cell phone, also declined comment.

"You've got me in Nantucket," she said. "There's a hurricane coming," she said last week, and ended the call. At the time Hurricane Earl was approaching the eastern seaboard. She did not answer or return phone calls this week.

The foundation, which buys Alaska Native art from local craftspeople and resells it at its Anchorage gallery and on the Internet, gets most of its funding from the Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

That's a jointly funded state and federal effort to increase Alaska's manufacturing economy. The partnership considers artists to be "manufacturing" the art they create, its website states.

"Alaska Native Art is a manufactured product that expresses the culture of Alaska Natives. It is an industry where Alaska Natives have a competitive advantage," according to AMEP's website.

Rogoff told the Alaska Legislature in 2007 the foundation's philosophy is to pay artists more for their work than others do, and then mark those prices up by 100 percent to defray the foundation's costs.

"That's why we're here. This is first-person economic development, as we like to say," Rogoff told the Legislature.

The foundation's appropriation was cut following its loss of half its state funding, AMEP's Buchholdt said. That loss of funding came following a Parnell administration veto.

Buchholdt said AMEP's board voted 7-3 to eliminate the foundation's funding.

"The board made what (it) felt to be a tough but fiduciarily responsible decision," he said.

State funding from AMEP has been the foundation's principal source of revenue, amounting to $571,000 in 2005, $600,000 each year since then, for nearly $3 million in public funding.

In 2009 Rogoff told the legislature that the foundation had so far purchased $1 million worth of Native art for resale, well below the $3 million it received.

The foundation's 2008 tax return reported art sales of $225,000 for the previous year.

It is not clear how many jobs at the foundation may be at stake. The group's website lists four staff members. Its 2008 tax return reported it was paying its then-executive director $105,000 a year, plus benefits.

The partnership has previously listed its support for the foundation as one of its "successes" on its website, but just recently removed Native art from the list.

Rogoff also ran the recently closed Alaska House New York, which operated a gallery in that city selling Native art. She sought funding from the Legislature to help subsidize that gallery, but closed it earlier this summer when funding was not forthcoming.

Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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