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Challenging America in Alaska: The “Heart and Soul of Juneau”

February 15, 2019
Juneau Arts & Culture Center
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Close up image of the Juneau Arts & Culture Center

Image produced by Nancy DeCherney, provided by the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. Used by permission. All rights reserved.  

Though it’s located on Alaska’s mainland, the state capital, Juneau, is only accessible by air and by sea, surrounded by towering mountains and covered by the gigantic glaciers of the Juneau Icefield.  Because of this dramatic landscape, connecting municipalities by road is impossible, and people rely heavily on plane and ferry transportation. 

With a population of 33,000, Juneau is widely recognized as a creative American city, but it is the only state capital without a dedicated arts and culture center.

Now, an NEH Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant aims to change that, enabling the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to build a space that can encompass the city’s vibrant cultural scene.

Image of a recent concert in the Main Hall at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, featuring South African performer Vusi Mahlasela.
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Image of a recent concert in the Main Hall at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, featuring South African performer Vusi Mahlasela. 

Image produced by Ron Gile, provided by the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 
Image of a recent concert in the Main Hall at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, featuring South African performer Vusi Mahlasela.
Photo caption

Image of a recent concert in the Main Hall at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, featuring South African performer Vusi Mahlasela. 

Image produced by Ron Gile, provided by the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

The Council already holds programs nearly every day of the year, attended by almost 40,000 people.  But its current facility is a 1959 National Guard Armory building plagued by mold, leaky roofs, dim lighting, portable seating, and vandalism. 

The New Juneau Arts and Culture Center, known around town as the New JACC (“New Jack”), is  an ambitious $26 million project.  The New JACC, with more than twice the capacity of the current facility, is expected to bring in over 100,000 people to lectures, concerts, plays, dance performances, youth programs, folk festivals, Native celebrations, and other events.

Image of downtown Juneau, AK.
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Image of downtown Juneau, AK.

Image produced by Mark Kelley, provided by the NewJACC Project. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

The Council envisions the New Juneau Arts and Culture Center, located in a place where people are “inspired by nature and driven to create,” as a place that will ensure the centrality of the humanities and arts in Juneau for generations to come and enrich the experiences of the over one million tourists a year who visit Alaska’s capital city.

Still image (from an animation) of the proposed New JACC building design
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Still image (from an animation) of the proposed New JACC building design

Image / animation produced by Hacker Architects and Northwind Architects, provided by the NewJACC Project. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The New JACC will have 45,000 square feet of space and will include a 300-seat theater, a large community hall, a small, flexible “black box” theater/event space, an art gallery, a sound studio, a café, an artists’ retail shop, a large classroom, a spacious atrium, and offices for several nonprofit organizations.

Programming slated for the New JACC is linked to the Council’s long range strategic plan and core values.  Community leaders hope that the New JACC will be the “heart and soul of Juneau,” featuring the rich history and culture of the area, showcasing its arts, and telling untold stories of its people.  When asked about the potential impact of this award, Executive Director of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council Nancy DeCherney said, “It is an important signal of confidence in our community and our project.  This grant will be leveraged several times over, and have a lasting, multi-faceted impact on the arts and humanities in Juneau.”

Image of the JACC Gallery, which also serves as a meeting/conference room.
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Image of the JACC Gallery, which also serves as a meeting/conference room. Pictured here is the New JACC Capital Campaign Committee meeting about the project. 

Image produced by Betsy Brenneman, provided by the NewJACC Project. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Enthusiasm for the new cultural center is high, and the number of organizations already planning to use the space is swelling as creative possibilities evolve. These include the Juneau Lyric Opera, Juneau Jazz and Classics, Shakespeare Community Read Alouds, the Juneau World Affairs Council’s lecture series, the Juneau Black Awareness Association, Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Celebration, and the Alaska Folk Festival. 

The NEH has offered Juneau Arts and Humanities Council $750,000 in federal funds, an investment that is intended to leverage an additional $3,000,000 in other contributions.  By all accounts, the Council is well on its way to meeting the match, in one of the largest fundraising efforts in Alaska’s history.  The Council envisions moving toward final design and construction documents during 2019, with groundbreaking for the new building the following year. 

As New JACC Capital Campaign Committee co-chair Annie Calkins notes, “Alaska, and Juneau itself, where we are ‘inspired by nature and driven to create,’ rightly deserve a gathering place such as the New JACC in the center of our community.”

Image of the Juneau Arts & Culture Center with Mount Juneau pictured in the distance
Photo caption

Image of the Juneau Arts & Culture Center with Mount Juneau pictured in the distance

Image produced by Nancy DeCherney, provided by the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. Used by permission. All rights reserved.  

Finally, the New Juneau Arts and Culture Center will reach out well beyond Juneau, capturing activities in its media studio for regional, state and global rebroadcast.  Project partner KTOO Public Media, located just across the street, will help spread the word about this new center for the humanities and the arts in a remote, but vibrant, community in the Last Frontier.

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