If creative energy showed up as visible light, the glow emanating from the Juneau Arts & Culture Center Thursday night would easily be bright enough to be seen by passing satellites in space.
A big night in the Arts 012815 NEWS 1 AMY FLETCHER If creative energy showed up as visible light, the glow emanating from the Juneau Arts & Culture Center Thursday night would easily be bright enough to be seen by passing satellites in space.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Story last updated at 1/28/2015 - 4:49 pm

A big night in the Arts

If creative energy showed up as visible light, the glow emanating from the Juneau Arts & Culture Center Thursday night would easily be bright enough to be seen by passing satellites in space.

The Governor's Awards for the Arts and Humanities ceremony, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, will bring together Alaskan artists, educators and humanitarians of many different types. Some will be honored with awards, others will perform in celebration of the first group's wide-ranging contributions to the state.

Southeast artists and humanitarians will be well represented as both honorees and performers; recipients of this year's nine awards include the nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute, which will be honored with the Alaska Native Arts award, and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, which won this year's award for Arts Organization. 

Locals who will be performing in honor of these recipients include spoken word artists Christy NaMee Eriksen and Ziggy Unzicker, Alaska Native storyteller Ishmael Hope, artist MK MacNaughton (with her Giant Puppet Project), the Alaska Youth Choir under the direction of Missouri Smyth, and Ryan Conarro, who will act as MC. (Technically Conarro doesn't live in Juneau anymore but since his work here is ongoing, we can still claim him as our own.)

Juneau writer Ernestine Hayes will also be honored Thursday, as one of five recipients of the first annual Alaska Literary Awards, along with Erin Hollowell of Homer, Joan Kane of Anchorage, Susanna Mishler of Anchorage, and Frank Soos of Fairbanks.

In addition, a legislative citation will be presented in memory of local scholar and linguist Richard Dauenhauer. His widow, Nora Marks Dauenhauer, will also be recognized as the outgoing state writer laureate.

Gov. Bill Walker will officially present the awards to the recipients – four arts honorees, four humanities honorees and the new State Writer Laureate Frank Soos.

The annual awards are co-presented by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Humanities Forum in coordination with the Office of the Governor.


Here is brief description of the nine Alaskans who will be shaking Walker’s hand.

Governor’s Awards for the Arts

• Arts Organization: Sitka Fine Arts Camp, Sitka

Established by the Sheldon Jackson College faculty in 1973, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp is well known to many Southeast children and their parents. Now entering its 40th season, the camp is based at the historical Sheldon Jackson College campus, a location the camp has worked to help restore since 2011. The most recent camp session, in the summer of 2014, brought more than 700 students from more than 38 Alaskan communities, 28 states and four countries.

In 2008, the camp received the presidential Coming Up Taller Award from then-First Lady Laura Bush, an award honoring “youth organizations that make extraordinary contributions to arts and culture in their communities.” And in 2011, the camp received an ArtPlace Award as “one of the most dynamic examples of Creative Placemaking in the country.”

Executive Director Roger Schmidt, who has headed up the camp since 2000, grew up in Sitka and attended the camp himself in the 1980s. A musician, he was inducted into the Alaska Hall of Fame in 2012 and received the Sitka Arts Advocate of the Year award.


• Alaska Native Arts: Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau

Sealaska Heritage Institute was established in 1980 as the nonprofit arm of Sealaska Corporation to administer cultural and educational programs for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples of Southeast Alaska.

Early projects included the establishment of a scholarship program, the documentation of oral traditions, and the foundation of Celebration, all of which continue to flourish. Celebration now brings nearly 2,000 dancers and 50 dance groups to Juneau every other year.

Since 1997, SHI’s board of trustees has made language restoration a top priority. The group’s work in that area includes archival projects such as transcription of oral narratives, and, more recently, a mentor-apprentice program pairing language students with fluent Elders. SHI also organizes frequent workshops, lectures, art markets and a biennial Juried Art Show.

SHI is constructing a new cultural center downtown, the Walter Soboleff Center, that will allow them to continue this work on a larger scale.

For more, visit and

• Individual Artist: Margo Klass, Visual Artist, Fairbanks

Margo Klass’ work is influenced by her passion for book arts, her first creative love. Her sculptural pieces include artist books and modified forms of artist books which she calls box constructions and altar pieces. These mixed media works feature found and natural objects meticulously arranged to create evocative visual landscapes.

Klass has works in the permanent collections of the Anchorage Museum and the Museum of the North, and has exhibited her work all over the country. She taught art and art history for 25 years before devoting herself to her own art full time and she continues to teach bookmaking classes through UAF, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and Northwoods Book Arts Guild, a group she formed to promote book arts in Alaska.

Klass’ husband is the writer Frank Soos, who will be named Writer Laureate at Thursday’s event. In the past, Klass and Soos have exhibited their work in joint shows that pair Klass’ box constructions and altar pieces with textual responses in the form of short prose pieces written by Soos.

In an Empire interview in December, Klass said the couple is looking forward to creating areas of overlap for their work in the coming year.

Read more about Soos and Klass at and at

• Leslie Matz, Fine Arts Department Chair, Dimond High School, Anchorage

Leslie Matz is both an arts instructor and an active artist. His arts education award recognizes more than 30 years of arts instruction and mentorship.

As an artist, Matz creates mixed media sculptural pieces, jewelry, pottery, and paintings. His work has been featured in the Earth Fire and Fibre statewide exhibit and is held in the permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum.

As a teacher, he is currently the fine arts department chair at  Dimond High School. He has previously been honored with the BP Teacher of Excellence (2002) and the Alaska Art Education Association’s Art Teacher of the Year (2006 and 2014).

In an interview with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, conducted in 2010 when two of his students were being honored with national awards, Matz was asked what he finds to be the most rewarding thing about teaching. He said: “Watching students improve is rewarding, but watching them come to a point when they begin to value their work and the value of their arts education is tops.”

See more at:

Governor’s Awards for the Humanities

• Dr. Talis Colberg, Campus Director, University of Alaska Mat-Su College, Palmer

Dr. Talis Colberg is director of Mat-Su College, a branch of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where he teaches Eastern and Western Civilization.

In November, Colberg helped set up a satellite program for the  Palmer-based college in Talkeetna, about 60 miles away, making it far easier for Upper Valley residents to take courses in person.

Colberg is also an active public servant who served as the Attorney General of Alaska under former Gov. Sarah Palin, as a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly and as borough mayor (both twice) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Alaska Humanities Forum, among other roles.

He is a third generation Alaskan and earned his Ph.D. in Northern Political History and Culture at the University of Alaska Northern Studies program in 2008.

• Annette Evans Smith, President and CEO, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage

Annette Evans Smith  is of Athabascan, Yup’ik and Alutiiq heritage. She grew up in Anchorage, Dillingham and South Naknek, and was raised with her grandparents’ traditions. As president and CEO of the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, she works to help perpetuate indigenous Alaska cultures and traditions through celebration and education. She is also active in the push to revitalize the state’s 20 indigenous languages and is learning Yup’ik herself with her husband and two sons, according to an article in the Stanford alumni magazine. Through the ANHC, she has helped the Anchorage School District Title VII Native Education program offer nine indigenous languages. In 2012, former Gov. Parnell named her to the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council.

Evans began her work at the  Alaska Native Heritage Center in 2003 as vice-president of community relations and development, and has been president and CEO since 2011.

• Dr. Aldona Jonaitis, Director, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Fairbanks

Dr. Aldona Jonaitis is widely considered one of the foremost scholars of Northwest Coast art. In an Empire interview in 2010, Jonaitis said she first became interested in Northwest Coast art as a kid in New York City, after visiting museums such as the American Museum of Natural History. When she got to graduate school, her choice of specialties was clear.  

“When I realized I could specialize in Northwest Coast art, I was thrilled,” she recalled in the 2010 interview.

She is the author of more than seven books, which include “Art of the Northern Tlingit” (1986), “Robert Davidson: Eagle of the Dawn” (1993), “Art of the Northwest Coast” (2006) and “The Totem Pole: an Intercultural History,” (2010).

She has been a frequent collaborator with SHI, appearing as a guest lecturer in Juneau several times and working with them to prepare their Tinaa Art Auction. She is currently helping them plan exhibits for the Walter Soboleff building.

Jonaitis began working for UAF in 1993. After a brief retirement in 2009, she returned to the University in 2012. Previous positions include vice president for public programs at the American Museum of Natural History, Vice Provost and Associate Provost for undergraduate studies, and chair of the art department at SUNY at Stony Brook.

• Allison Warden, Interdisciplinary Artist and Founder/Artistic Director at Uyalunaq, Anchorage

Iñupiaq interdisciplinary artist Allison Akootchook Warden is known throughout the state for her performance art, including original raps expressive of her indigenous heritage and cultural respect, which she performs as AKU-MATU.  Her one-woman show, “Ode to the Polar Bear,” has been seen across the state.

She has also performed at venues around the world, including in  New York City, Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki, London, Spain and Greenland.

Raised in Anchorage, her family is from the village of Kaktovik, in the northeastern corner of the state.

In addition to receiving an award, Warden is one of three artists who will be performing Thursday as  Yada Di — Denai’na for “What Is This?” — a conceptual improv-groove band that also features violinist/composer Elena Lukina- EL and multi-instrumentalist/composer Yngvil Vatn Guttu.

Alaska State Writer Laureate

• Frank Soos, Professor Emeritus, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Frank Soos, professor emeritus of English at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, has published several works of fiction, including the short story collections “Early Yet” (1998) and “Unified Field Theory,” (1998) and a book of essays “Bamboo Fly Rod Suite: Reflections on Fishing and the Geography of Grace,” (1999), illustrated by Alaska artist Kesler Woodward. “Unified Field Theory” earned him the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 1997. He is also co-editor with Woodward of “Under Northern Lights: Artists and Writers on the Alaskan Landscape,” (2000).

Soos serves on the advisory board of the University of Alaska Press, conducts workshops, and recently participated in the Poetry in Place project with his poem “The Blue Fish.” He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and was the first Artist in Residence at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.

He began teaching at the University of Alaska in 1986 and retired in 2004.

The 2015 Governor’s Awards Public Reception and Awards Ceremony tickets can be purchased at: