In the first arrangement of its kind, the Smithsonian Institution has loaned hundreds of indigenous Alaska artifacts to their place of origin allowing access for hands-on study by Alaska Native elders, artists and scholars. These cultural and historical treasures are exhibited in the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in the Anchorage Museum.
The center’s main exhibition is titled Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska. The exhibition features more than 600 objects from the Smithsonian's collections that were selected and interpreted with help from Alaska Native advisers. Examples include an 1893 Tlingit war helmet from the southeast Alaska village of Taku and a 1935 Iñupiaq feast bowl from Wales, near Nome on Alaska’s northwest coast.
Visitors learn about objects through touch screens: They can zoom in on a photo of an object and scroll through more information, such as related oral histories and archival images. This information and more is available on the exhibition website Sharing Knowledge Alaska, where you can also find resources for educators.
The exhibition also includes two multimedia installations. A video installation about contemporary Alaska Native life plays on seven large, flat-screen TVs. A 3-D sound installation along the west wall immerses visitors in the Arctic through recordings of Alaska Native storytellers and sounds from the natural environment.
In addition to its gallery space, the 10,000-square-foot center encourages research about Alaska Native cultures through an archaeology laboratory and a community room where Alaska Native elders, artists and scholars can study heritage objects up close.
The Arctic Studies Center, established in 1988, is a federal research and education program focusing on peoples, history, archaeology and cultures across the circumpolar North. The center is part of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. In 1994, the center partnered with the Anchorage Museum to open an Anchorage office.
Learn more about Alaska Native cultures.
View the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Exhibition video: