From ADN: Community collaboration enriches a new view of Black life in Alaska

"I don’t want to pass down the hardships of being Black to my kids, I want to pass down the good, the stuff that they can be proud of and the accomplishments and a strong culture and history. That’s legit Black joy to me." — Jasmin Smith, Anchorage entrepreneur, teacher, consultant, community activist and mother

Museum exhibitions are often planned years in advance. There is research to be done, collaboration and conversations to be had, loans to arrange, exhibition design and fabrication to take place, and events to organize.

“But museums also believe in making things happen,” Anchorage Museum Director and CEO Julie Decker said. “We want to reflect the conversations in real time and to be a space for conversations that can’t wait years to be had.”

That’s the motivation behind “Black Lives in Alaska: Journey, Justice, Joy,” which runs from April 30 to Nov. 30, 2021 at the Anchorage Museum. Decker said the exhibition is a community effort to initiate a broader, long-term conversation -- and to lay the groundwork for developing more exhibitions and programs that capture ideas, stories and perspectives related to Black lives in Alaska.

The idea for “Black Lives in Alaska” started to germinate last fall, after a summer of nationwide protests for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police officer Derek Chauvin.

Around the same time, the museum began working to identify and address shortfalls in its own effort to build a comprehensive archive of Alaska histories and culture. Julie Varee, the museum’s community outreach archivist, is working to expand the archives to be more inclusive of communities that aren’t currently well-represented. “Black Lives in Alaska” presented an opportunity to do double duty, feeding both a public exhibition and the permanent archives.

“This exhibition just connects beautifully with the work we are doing to help make sure that more community members and communities are represented in the museum’s collections through more inclusive archives,” Varee said.

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Image: Photography by Jovell Rennie, 2020

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