The Sealaska Heritage Institute plans to turn this downtown Juneau parking lot into a Native artists' park and market.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute plans to turn this downtown Juneau parking lot into a Native artists’ park and market. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A major Southeast cultural organization plans to create a Native arts market and park in Juneau. That, and an advanced education initiative, are part of an effort to boost the region’s traditional arts economy.

A downtown Juneau parking lot is slated to be turned into a Native artists’ park.

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said it will include totems and other large art objects, plus a tribal house.

“It would look like a tribal house, but it would be enclosed,” she said. “It would be an area where the artists can carve monumental art, as well as other art forms.”

The park is part of the institute’s multi-pronged effort to encourage, promote and sell Native art from Southeast Alaska. It’s branding the style as Northwest Coast Art.

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl is promoting a Native arts initiative in Southeast Alaska.  (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/KTOO)

“Northwest Coast Art is developed around what we call formline and there are basic components that you have to master,” she said. “It’s a whole different art scheme than drawing naturalistic forms.”

Another part of the effort is an education initiative to develop Tlingit and Haida artists’ skills.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Senior Research Fellow Rick Harris said it starts with a two-year program at the University of Alaska Southeast, which already offers formline design courses.

Harris, a retired Sealaska Corp. vice president, said graduates could continue studies at New Mexico’s Institute of American Indian Arts, which offers degrees in writing, museum studies and studio arts.

“The idea is for students to be able to come to UAS, learn and be skilled and become experienced in Northwest Coast design and then actually be able to go to Santa Fe and to capture some of the additional benefits that they have been able to develop through their Indian arts program,” he said.

The three organizations signed a memorandum of agreement in November.

The Northwest Coast Arts Initiative also would push for federal recognition for formline design and funding to expand its programs.

The initiative is in its early stages.

Haida artist Robert Davidson's metal panel "Greatest Echo" adorns the front of the Walter Soboleff Building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Haida artist Robert Davidson’s formline design panel “Greatest Echo” adorns the front of the Walter Soboleff Building. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Worl, also a Sealaska Corp. board member, said the Juneau arts park and market would cost $7 million to $8 million, including moving parking underground. It also hasn’t yet sought needed building permits.

The university and Indian arts programs would also have significant expenses.

She said it’s worth pursuing.

“What you’ve got to do is take yourself out of Northwest Coast Art and look at it in context of art throughout the world. And then you begin to see how unique and how different it is from other art forms,” she said.

Sealaska Heritage Institute already built the Walter Soboleff Center, which was completed about two years ago. It has archives, a theater, a store and exhibits in a building across the street from the proposed arts park.

Sealaska Corp. President and CEO Anthony Mallott said this will be phase two.

“Adding an outside park where artists are more engaged with the visitors or with residents of Southeast Alaska is a vision that has been put forward and we’ll continue to find ways to see if we can make it work,” he said.

The term Northwest Coast Art also refers to similar work from Coastal British Columbia and Washington state. But Worl said her institute’s efforts will focus on Southeast Alaska.

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