Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Legislator: Repeal program that funds artworks


The Alaska Legislature is considering eliminating a program that paid for much of the public art around Haines and provided work for local artists around the state.

A new bill would eliminate the state’s Percent for Arts Program, which mandates 1 percent of the construction budget for state projects be set aside for site-specific artwork in new or renovated buildings.

House Bill 160, introduced by state Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, would repeal the program under the argument it would help cut the state’s budget.

Many Haines artists have benefited from the program by producing local art or bidding on projects in other parts of the state. Artists Donna Catotti and Rob Goldberg, among others, produced pieces for the renovated Haines School, while John and Sharon Svenson have built mosaics for the George H. Gilson Middle School in Valdez, the Dimond Park Aquatic Center in Juneau and Harborview Elementary School in Juneau.

John Svenson is headed to Palmer this week to install a mosaic at the Valley Pathways School. Svenson referred to cutting the Percent for Arts program as “a criminal act.”

“These people aren’t artists. They’re politicians,” he said.

Svenson said regardless of whether artists get the job or not when they submit bids for the projects, the program spurs artists to get on the ball with putting proposals together for their portfolio.

“I think it has been really good for that whether you do land the job or not. It really snaps artists into gear. It’s pretty serious; you’re bound by contract. It’s not frivolous,” he said.

A stained-glass landscape at the Haines swimming pool showing the town and Chilkat Inlet from Mount Ripinsky is one of many pieces of local public art created under the program.

Haines School art teacher Linnus Danner created the piece in 1981 when she was a part-time teacher. School district superintendent Steve McPhetres wanted a piece of art to remind pool users why swimming was important.

Danner said this week that eliminating the Percent for Art program was “not a good thing.”

The importance of public art was recognized thousands of years ago, she said. “That just goes back to the Stone Age. Of course you put up art. That’s what we’re supposed to do in a civilized society.”

“Look at all the public buildings in Alaska that have great art (as a result of the program). If that (program) doesn’t happen, we’ll have a lot of missed opportunities for art,” Danner said.

Alaska Indian Arts director Lee Heinmiller said in addition to carving totem poles for qualifying Percent for Arts projects around town, Alaska Indian Arts artists have also crafted state seals for many statewide projects, including the 10-foot-wide seal that sits behind the bench in Anchorage’s Alaska Supreme Court chambers.

Heinmiller was part of the push to get the Percent for Arts Program adopted in 1975, when he was a member of the Alaska Arts Alliance. Heinmiller said public art is one of the things that attracts people to live in small-town Alaska, much like a library and public radio station would.

“The arts make a big difference, and the money in the arts turns over way more than anything else – even tourism dollars – because the artists tend to live there and spend their money there and buy their equipment there,” Heinmiller said.

For artists that bid on the Percent for Arts projects, it’s not about selling a pre-produced piece of art to make a buck, Heinmiller said. Considerable time goes into putting together bid documents, and the projects turn out to be very unique.

“It’s not just about selling another piece of art. It’s something specifically designed for that locale and those people,” Heinmiller said.

Alaska Arts Confluence creative director Carol Tuynman sent out an email to local artists this week urging them to comment before a Tuesday House Senate Affairs committee meeting when legislators would consider public testimony on the matter.

Tuynman said one of the confluence’s goals is to get the Haines Borough to adopt a Percent for Arts program for local construction projects.

According to Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation president Kes Woodward, 66 Alaska artists have participated in the program in the last five years. “Alaskan artists would be negatively and severely impacted by the repeal of this statute,” Woodward said. “Public art commissions can play a significant role in the development and sustainability of an artist’s career – many Alaskan artists have been able to build a successful artistic business as a result of a public art commission.”

Woodward also contends repealing the program won’t save the state money. “Losing this legacy would be a tremendous loss to our state, especially as this statute would have virtually no helpful impact on the state’s operating or capital budget – the 1 percent would likely just be reallocated to other construction expenses within each project’s budget,” he said.

HB160 would also eliminate the Art in Public Places fund, which is used to administer and acquire artwork into the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank. The art bank loans out artwork created by Alaskan artists to public buildings throughout the state.

Contact Rep. Sam Kito III at or Sen. Dennis Egan at to comment on HB160.


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