PUBLISHED: 4:16 PM on Wednesday, October 10, 2007
JAHC opens in old Armory, adds arts, culture center
Juneau Arts & Humanities has a new home, and they seem quite settled amidst the bustling action.

Located in the retired National Guard Armory at 350 Whittier St., nestled by Centennial Hall, the space is more open, lighter and importantly, now handicap accessible.

"When I first came on board here in August and I was talking to the board it was one of their requests that we find a different location, because this location is not (handicap) accessible. We get grants and we need to be able to. For example, the mother of one of our artists wanted to come and see the show and was in a wheel chair, and that makes it very difficult," DeCherney said.

In addition to their offices moving, the move has opened the opportunity to create the Juneau Arts & Culture Center as well as a future performing arts center.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Executive director Nancy DeCherney has settled in her new JAHC office at 350 Whittier St., the old National Guard Armory, which is now open to the public.
The Assembly authorized the City to begin lease negotiations for the Armory with JAHC on June 4, this year.

The Armory, which was built around 1959, was originally owned by the Mental Health Trust, who owns property all around the state with the purpose to raise support money for programs.

"As the city was getting closer to its purchase of the building, the mayor came in and said 'what do you think about that idea?'" DeCherney said.

"It's a location that has always been on the radar, should the city every get enough money to build a performing arts center. So, it just kind of made sense. The city considered other options; they considered turning it into a parking lot. We just worked with them to come up with this," she said.

JAHC was given permission to enter the building the first week of September, spent most of the month tidying, and moved in Oct. 1.

"The first weekend it was all cleaning-that place was dirty! It's been vacant for about two years; it just had dust and grime. You'd go and wash and then go wash again," she said. "The first weekend was serious grime cutting. I had budgeted two weekends for that, thinking it was going to be double duty; but we managed to get it all done the first weekend. Since then we've been painting, priming and prepping."

"I'm just impressed, we've had close to 80 people come down and volunteer time, people are volunteering supplies; people donated the paint. The community support seems to be really strong, it seems really nice," DeCherney said.

Volunteers also built panels to hang in front of the widows as sometimes they prefer light and sometimes not.

Locals also contributed money donations. "There was a lady who could help come clean and said 'could I just pay some money?' Her donation is going toward the carpet cleaning," she said.

The old murals on the wall will be preserved. DeCherney is contacting people in the community who know who the artists are and their stories.

DeCherney also said she believes the location will change how First Friday works.

"People walk in from Centennial Hall will walk in and ask if this is a museum, and I think it will become a path to the State Museum, which will be nice for our gallery artists," she said.

As far as they old JAHC location, they don't know what will go there, she said.

As CBJ is leasing the building, the agreement states JAHC pays for utilities, substantial maintenance. The bathrooms will be remodeled because it was only a men's facility previously, and adding a new roof.

"We will ultimately be responsible for paying for those, but they are giving us a year's grace. They'll get the remodel stuff done, and then we'll look at how much it costs," she said.

"My board is a little nervous; that's a substantial amount of money we're looking at. For the Arts Council to agree to take on that kind of responsibility-is a big step. So, they're trying to hold our costs down under $110,000. Next year, we'll have to look at it and figure out how many years we plan on being there, on top of our payments to be in there. It more than doubles are rent," DeCherney said.

To supplement the rent, JAHC is planning on offering the open lobby area as performance space available for rent, and utilizing building space.

"We're trying to keep the opening space pretty flexible; like a black box so you can have just about anything there ranging from performances to dog shows. We have to build a wall to make a lobby area that will more clearly define it as a performance space," she said.

They're considering it as a ballroom floor as well for Centennial Hall. In addition, they have another office they're hoping to rent out to another arts organization, DeCherney said.

"We're going on a leap of faith, that the community needs this and wants it and will support it. I guess that's the part that's really important; clearly people are excited because they're volunteering their efforts, it's going to be a community effort to use this space," DeCherney said.

"It feels like we're adding something to the community-a resource."

For more information contact 586-2787 or visit

The hours of operation are Monday-Wednesday 9-5 p.m., Thursday & Friday 9-6 p.m. and Saturday 12-4 p.m.