Carving New Bridges and Crossing Traditions

UAS, IAIA and Sealaska Heritage Institute renew agreement


Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong 

The University of Alaska Southeast has updated a Memorandum of Agreement with the Institute of American Indian Arts and Sealaska Heritage Institute for Northwest Coast Arts at UAS. The MOA was originally signed in November 2016.

Under the MOA, the three organizations will continue “to work together to provide enhanced Northwest Coast (NWC) Art programs, instructional opportunities, collaborative academic offerings leading to a NWC Arts Associate degree or Certificate or a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and overall enrichment of NWC Art for Alaska students.” 

Located in Juneau, the non-profit Sealaska Heritage Institute primarily serves the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people in Southeast Alaska, and “extending to other Alaska Natives in such areas as art and cultural advocacy,” the MOA states, “with a goal to promote cross-cultural understanding among the larger society.”

Dedicated to American Indian and Alaska Native arts and cultures, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Its mission “is to empower creativity and leadership in Native Arts and Cultures through higher education, lifelong learning and research,” according to the agreement. 

Sealaska Heritage Institute President  Rosita Worl and former UAS anthropology professor told the Whalesong that SHI actively worked with UAS to put programs in place to revitalize Tlingit language. When SHI felt there was a strong enough foundation in language revitalization, it began to focus on Northwest Coast Art, she said.  

The Heritage Institute started holding Northwest Coast Art workshops around Southeast, teaching formline, which is the basis of Northwest Coast Alaska Native design. Worl said SHI later connected with IAIA to discuss a Northwest Coast Art program with UAS. The long-term MOA will continue to be updated by all three organizations, she said.

The UAS mission of “student learning enhanced by faculty scholarship, undergraduate research and creative activities, community engagement, and the cultures and environment of Southeast Alaska,” is a major reason the organizations have joined in the MOA. 

“Unfortunately, for a lot of different reasons, cultures have been decimated and died out, and I think we are all dedicated to making sure that this doesn’t happen with Native Alaskan art, Native Alaskan language and Native Alaskan culture,” said Karen Carey, UAS Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies.

She said the Northwest Coast arts program provides an opportunity to gain a broader knowledge of Indigenous art as well as preserve and enhance Indigenous cultures.

“(IAIA) focuses on Southwest art, primarily, so we want to become the destination campus for Northwest Coast art,” Carey said.

A NWC art certificate is a two-year program at UAS. With the MOA, UAS students are able to transfer to IAIA to complete a four-year degree, and IAIA students can transfer to UAS. Carey said the agreement allows an exchange of faculty as well. 

For more information about the Northwest Coast Art MOA, visit the Sealaska Heritage Institute and UAS websites.

Master carver and professor of Northwest Coast Arts Wayne Price carves a totem on the UAS campus.
Photo courtesy University of Alaska Southeast

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