Made in Alaska: Alaska Native Arts Foundation
Gallery shows, sells Native art from communities around the state
ANCHORAGE - Susie Bevins-Ericsen is an artist raised in Barrow. Ten years ago, she and a group of other Alaska Native artists formed a nonprofit with one goal: promoting native art in Alaska.
“The whole idea of the Alaska Native Arts Foundation being formed was to develop relationships with the artists in the villages,” she said, while chiseling away at a wooden walrus mask in her workshop in southwest Anchorage. They wanted to create an organization focused on artists in rural fringes of the state, “promoting their work and [making] opportunities for them.”
Part of that goal was opening the ANAF gallery in Downtown Anchorage. It’s a place for artists to show, share, and sell their work.
"This is a moose bladder bag," Trina Landlord said, walking through the gallery and discussing the dozens of pieces of Native art on display. She’s the executive director of the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, and she said working in the gallery can be dangerous.
“Just seeing all the amazing, creative pieces coming through the door,” Landlord said, standing in front of a massive whalebone sculpture inlaid with baleen and ivory. Smiling, she laughed. “It’s… it’s dangerous.”
Handling a pair of ivory snow goggles — “these were the first Ray Bans in Alaska,” she jokes — Landlord said the gallery and its online store provide a way for artists to make a living from their work. "An artist living in rural Alaska may not have access to a gallery or a gift shop to sell their art work.”
But it's not just about providing a place to sell art. Landlord said the foundation also provides resources to help turn artists into entrepreneurs. ”We give mini-grants to artists so that they [can] then take training, go to classes, or have an exhibition.” That training also helps aspiring artists build business plans, set up their own online store, and book their own showcases.
Bevins-Ericsen said that, after ten years of promoting Native art in Alaska—and even sharing that work in galleries in Washington, DC and New York City—the resources they’re providing for fledgling Alaska Native artists is already helping to bring Native art to the rest of the country.
“It’s awesome, because, you know, its part of our culture to encourage others and make opportunities for them and make sure their needs are met,” she said.
And, she said, the foundation has given other Native artists a chance to realize their potential. To “have the full experience of being a native artist.”
When she traveled to rural communities in the past, she said the people she bought from “just considered themselves carvers, or making things. But now,” she said, smiling, “they call themselves artists.”