History of Arts & Culture Spaces in Juneau
The arts and culture have long been vitally important to the people of Juneau, important enough that artworks of all forms were created in whatever spaces were available.
1960s & 1970s
One good example goes back to 1966 when the Juneau Douglas Little Theatre (JDLT) leased a retired church on the site of what is now the Juneau Douglas High School auditorium from the City. For nearly 16 years, drama, dance and music was enjoyed in this makeshift space. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council was founded during this era (1973), and housed in a downtown basement. One small room served as a gallery and the Council hosted monthly visual arts exhibits there, along with sponsoring a program of performing arts events in various venues around town.
The 1980’s brought significant changes to the Juneau arts scene, including the founding of Perseverance Theatre. They too found a makeshift space to begin with - the Taku Bar on Third Street in Douglas. In 1983 a 160-seat theater was built on the site it where still stands. In 1982 the City expanded the high school to include a large auditorium with the understanding that the new facility would be jointly used by school and community groups so that citizens could enjoy music, dance and dramatic performances. In 1986, Juneau Jazz and Classics, under the direction of Linda Rosenthal, launched a rousing, Spring music festival and a yearlong program of events. Musicians from across the country have performed in the festival for thirty years.
With the dawning of the 21st century, the arts were booming in Juneau. Each year featured performances from Perseverance Theater, Theater in the Rough, and Juneau Douglas Little Theater among others, the Jazz and Classics Festival, the notorious Folk Festival, and full-seasons of performances from the Juneau Symphony, Juneau Lyric Opera, Opera To Go and Juneau Dance Theater. The bi-annual Celebration hosted by Sealaska Heritage Institute outgrew its old venue as over 1,100 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimpshian dancers from across the Pacific Northwest and Canada came to Juneau to participate. In 2000, enthusiastic visual artists formed Plein Rein - a group of rugged plein air painters - and sought venues to host regular shows of their work. A full program of events sponsored by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gave residents creative opportunities, as performers and audience members. Performances were held in churches, at the JACC, the two high schools and sometimes even in bars. Centennial Hall, a conference center operated by the city also hosted some of the larger events.
In 2009 Juneau was rated #1 in all of Alaska in the Creative Vitality Index, a measure of the economic vitality of arts activities. At that time the CVI showed that Juneau, with a population of 31,000, had more than 355 active artists or people involved in the arts and culture sector and 23 active arts/culture organizations.
Today, new arts and culture organizations, of increasing diversity, continue to be launched and thrive in Juneau, and as they do the need for professional, accessible, inclusive and creative space grows more acute across the community.
History of the Building Project
In 2008, instigated by a Juneau Performing Arts Center Commission feasibility study, a set of Capital Campaign Recommendations for a Juneau Performing Arts Center set the preliminary construction costs at $42 million – far beyond what seemed possible at the time. The project went into limbo. In 2012, the Arts Council resurrected the dream of a center held by many local citizens for over 40 years and advocated with voters and the city to receive $1 million in sales tax revenue. The Assembly approved this appropriation, for planning, design and construction of a new arts and culture center. The legal framework and organizational structure of a Partnership organization was finalized and a 501(c)(3) non-profit status was granted in 2014 in order to pursue design and construction of an Arts and Culture Center.
Since 2013 the Arts Council and it arts organization partners have been awarded grants totaling over $1.6 million to activate plans. Community involvement in this work has been crucial. In 2014 Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) was contracted (with grant funds from Art Place America) to implement a community engagement process and report concerning the proposed center. A volunteer from the Capital Campaign Committee also interviewed 25 community leaders about the project and produced a report highlighting their impressions and concerns about the new center and its possibilities.
In Fall 2015, the McDowell Group completed a Market Demand Study and Feasibility Assessment commissioned by the Partnership Board, that included arts organizations and representatives from the community.
Since January 2016, major steps have moved the project forward. A part time Project Manager and Fundraising Manager were hired, a nationally advertised design competition was held, and architects were selected through a broad public process. Community engagement and arts organization input continued as the architect team - Juneau’s Northwind Architects, partnering with Hacker Architects of Portland and theater consultant Adam Shalleck of The Shalleck Collaborative of San Francisco - worked to produce a preliminary design. An all-volunteer Capital Campaign Committee is implementing a well crafted fundraising strategy. Branding and graphic development for the project is nearly complete with fundraising resources and a website launched.
After five decades of dreaming, this community arts and culture center is becoming a reality. Please join the community effort to build for Juneau's future.