Older on the Inside: Alaska State Museum Reopens in New Building

holly-fisher-1BY HOLLY FISHER
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

This past June the city of Juneau celebrated the reopening of the State Museum, which was closed on February 28, 2014 so the aging building could be replaced. The original collection that would later become the museum was established on June 6, 1900 with the purpose of collecting and cataloging the vast history of the then-territory. Though the items in the set grew rapidly, it spent 20 years moving from place to place without being on display. In 1920, it was set up in the Arctic Brotherhood Building in Juneau. However, the collection outgrew this space by the 1940’s. When the state funds could not entirely cover the costs of a new building, a temporary 1% sales tax was approved by vote of the city’s residents for the purpose of funding a permanent home for the migrant museum. It was constructed as part of the Alaska Purchase Centennial Commission, a state-wide project that constructed 40 buildings in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. The two-storied, spiral-staircase building was a beloved element of Juneau since its opening and dedication in 1968. It both displayed the history of the area and became part of it. The Juneau Folk Fest got its start there on Whittier Street, one of countless events to take place within its carved walls. On that final Friday the whole space was filled with people who had come to say good-bye to a place that had been a part of the city for almost half a century.

Two and a half years after the white-walled building closed its doors for the last time, the brand new facility was officially opened. The ribbon cutting happened on June 6, 2016 – a one hour ceremony that was held in the plaza outside the building, attended by such dignitaries as Governor Bill Walker and Senator Dennis Egan. The facility was not yet entirely complete, as there were still things to fine-tune about the displays, and the café and bookstore had not yet moved in. But these minor details did not detract from the impressive collection of more than 32,000 items. The new facility includes the State library and archives, combining a huge selection of Alaskan history and records under the acronym SLAM (State Library, Archives, and Museum). Prior to the SLAM project, each of these state preservation branches were located separately and dealt with issues of aging structures, cramped space, and water leakage. By collecting them into the 118,000 square foot facility they have been provided a central location and more room for classrooms, public study and display. Extra storage space was included in the building plans to give the museum room to grow over the next 50 or more years, aiming to avoid the tumultuous spacing issues of its early years.

Though it is already well known as the SLAM building, the official name is the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Library, Archives and Museum. Father Kashevaroff was an Alaskan-born priest of the Russian Orthodox Church. Of Russian and Native Alaskan decent, he served the church throughout the state for more than 60 years as everything from priest to choir director. Though he moved many times throughout his life, he and his wife eventually settled in Juneau. He served as the first librarian and curator of the Alaska Historical Museum and Library when it relocated to Juneau from Sitka. He was very passionate about the history of Alaska, and worked exceptionally hard to preserve and protect it from any further degradation or plundering. It was decided to name the new building after him in honor of the selfless work and dedication he displayed throughout his life.

The new building is already a hit, proudly shown off to guests and tourists as a great example of innovation and state-of-the-art construction. When the University Of Alaska Board Of Regents was in Juneau September 15 and 16 an event was held there to give the Board members a chance to explore the new space. It demonstrates Juneau’s ability to be an able provider of higher education and in-depth research, a great boon to UAS students and faculty. It contains displays and artifacts detailing the history of Native Alaskan tribes from all over the state, the discovery and colonization by the Russians and later the Americans, maritime and air power history, and many more elements of the 49th state’s development.

Since the building has now completed its first tourist season, praise has been heaped on it from outside visitors for its collection, design, and location. After the multi-year waiting period, it is highly encouraging to see such a positive response. The SLAM promises to be an attractive and successful element of Juneau for many years to come.

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