Ae
Last Thursday, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC) celebrated a birthday. It was a “cupcake” affair held at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC), marking 44 years of JAHC leadership in helping provide “vibrant arts and cultural opportunities” in Juneau.
State of the JAHC: 44 years young and still growing 080217 AE 1 Thomas Kellar, For the Capital City Weekly Last Thursday, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC) celebrated a birthday. It was a “cupcake” affair held at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC), marking 44 years of JAHC leadership in helping provide “vibrant arts and cultural opportunities” in Juneau.

The exterior of the Juneau Arts and Culture building (JACC) which houses the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC). Courtesy image.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Story last updated at 8/1/2017 - 3:20 pm

State of the JAHC: 44 years young and still growing

Last Thursday, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC) celebrated a birthday. It was a “cupcake” affair held at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC), marking 44 years of JAHC leadership in helping provide “vibrant arts and cultural opportunities” in Juneau.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with JAHC Executive Director Nancy DeCherney in her office inside the JACC to discuss the legacy of the Council and her vision for the JAHC moving forward. There is much taking up her time these days, including the need for a new and better arts facility, installation of a new Board of Directors, news that Juneau was a top-10 addition in a national publication’s “Arts Vibrancy Index” and of course the multitude of events that routinely fill the JAHC calendar.

TK: For someone like myself who has not been a longtime Juneau resident, can you tell me what leading the JAHC has been like and some of the changes you’ve seen along the way?

ND: This is my 11th year. I first took the job back in 2006 when the Arts Council was housed in what is now Barnaby Brewery, a basement location (at 206 North Franklin St.).

TK: The basement? That sounds interesting.

ND: (Laughing) It was not great. We had a little tiny gallery there with some rats and things like that. It was not fun. The board that hired me directed me to raise the community’s awareness about the Arts Council, get the name out a little bit more and also find a new location. At the time, Bruce Botelho was the mayor. He was very supportive and he was the one who came up with the idea of our move into the old armory (the current location at 350 Whittier St.)… We went through the process with the Assembly and our board and it was a tough process.

TK: It sounds as if you walked right into a huge undertaking.

ND: It was small to begin with. It was just myself and one other half-time person. But then we moved into this space and it’s been growing and growing and now we’re ready to move into an even bigger space, which we would like to build.

TK: Can you take us further back in time and talk a little about the beginning of the organization?

ND: It was founded as a local arts agency with its core values being democracy and community building and ideas of that nature. After a period of years, It was designated as the city’s official arts agency in 1988 by the City Assembly, charged with taking care of public art and advising the other agencies on things related to art. For the longest time, the Arts Council primarily did a concert series and helped other arts agencies like the symphony and Jazz and Classics receive funding… Over the years the Arts Council has done a variety of things. Interesting concerts have been brought in, provided scholarships for kids and artists, all kinds of things.

TK: For you personally, what have been some of the Arts Council highlights?

ND: That’s a difficult question. This is a very active community. It’s exciting to see the Walter Soboleff building coming along and all the work that SHI (Sealaska Heritage Institute) is doing, and it’s exciting to see Perseverance Theatre, which started out however many years ago and is now nationally known, getting first-run plays… I’m really excited by the whale that’s being done and we just got another sculpture. I think this is a community that recognizes the value of the arts.

TK: I understand that Juneau was recently recognized as one of the top-10 small towns in America for art.

ND: Pretty amazing huh? (Laughing) Southern Methodist University (SMU) does a survey every year and Alaska has never made the list before. It’s not just based on the number of events, but also the community support that happens like fundraising. It’s not something we applied for, it just happened.

TK: It seems like one of those things that potential Juneau-ites would pay attention to.

ND: We used to have walking tours through this building and we would tell people, “we have a nationally known theater, we have a Shakespeare company, we have two operas, two ballets.” When I would list for people what our town of 32,000 has, people from larger communities would just be stunned. Some major metropolitan areas can’t support an opera or a symphony…I think that speaks very highly of all the active people in this community.

TK: When you try and look into the future, what do you hope to see for your organization and arts in Juneau in general?

ND: Well, we would have our new JACC, it would be full, everyone would be having a good time. I think seeing a lot of the young people coming back to raise their families and their being good opportunities for their children will be important… I feel the arts are a way for us to pass along our values and our history.

Thomas Kellar is a freelance writer living in Juneau.