It’s been years in the making. Now, students can enroll in a Northwest Coast arts program.

A detail of Lily Hope’s first full size Chilkat Robe. Hope is teaching an online class about career development as an artist. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

This fall, students headed to the University of Alaska Southeast can enroll in a new associate degree program in art.

It’s part of a larger vision — in works for several years now — to establish a Northwest Coast arts hub. 

The new degree program is a partnership between the University of Alaska Southeast, Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. The agreements were signed a few years ago, but it’s taken some time to line everything up. 

Kari Groven, the Art Director at Sealaska Heritage Institute, says there’s a lot of room for growth. 

“We’re at a really great milestone that it exists in the first place,” she said.

The program is a two-year art degree with a focus on Northwest Coast Indigenous art. As part of the new program, students are required to take an intro course in relevant Native languages. Then, there’s hands-on arts classes to choose from, such as Northwest Coast basketry and carving. The university has offered some of those courses before, but others are brand new. For instance, acclaimed weaver Lily Hope is teaching an online class about career development as an artist. 

Students enrolled in the program will have the option to transfer credits to the Institute of American Indian Arts if they want to pursue a bachelor’s degree, or they can pursue a degree at UAS.

Groven thinks this kind of comprehensive academic offering is long overdue. She says many people are familiar with the region’s formline design, but the associates program is a way to gain a deeper understanding.

“In a way, the associates degree provides a starting point for that journey,” Groven said.

A rendering of the future Sealaska Heritage Arts Campus. (Courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)

Some of this fall’s courses will be offered online, and some will happen in-person — in accordance with the university’s pandemic plan.

In the future, students will take some of these classes on a brand new campus. Sealaska Heritage has already started breaking ground on a 6,000 square foot facility in downtown Juneau. It’s designed to house big projects, like canoes and totem poles. The campus is slated for completion sometime next year.

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