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NY's Alaska House gallery opened loudly, closes quietly

Mike Dunham

The Alaska House art gallery in Manhattan has closed.

The online publication Capital reported on Tuesday that "the doors are locked, the lights are off, and a large square sign with red lettering advertises 'space for rent.' "

No events were listed on the Alaska House website. Capital contacted Sabrina Smith, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, who confirmed that the gallery is in the process of closing down.

The gallery in New York's trendy SoHo neighborhood, which also served as a travel service and cultural center, opened with great fanfare on Sept. 15, 2008. Guests at the event included Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, Todd, Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Alaska artists Sylvester Ayek, Perry Eaton and Poldine Carlo.

Supporters included billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and philanthropist Daisy Soros, sister-in-law of international money fund mogul George Soros. The gallery and its partner organization, the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, were founded by Alice Rogoff Rubenstein, former chief financial officer of U.S. News and World Report and wife of The Carlyle Group's co-founder, David Rubenstein.

"Our goals for Alaska House are several-fold," said Rogoff Rubenstein at the opening. "One, to increase the sales and sale value of Alaska Native art, to both get the artist the fair market value they deserve, but also the recognition they deserve."

The broader mission included drawing attention to problems facing Alaska Natives. The opening's theme, "Life Without Ice," pertained to the effects of global warming on Arctic regions.

In addition, the center hoped to help Alaska companies market seafood to the East Coast and gave visitors from Alaska a place to check their e-mail.

In November, Rogoff Rubenstein requested an appropriation of $600,000 from the Alaska Legislature for "public relations and economic development marketing" for the gallery.

"I can't afford to keep New York open anymore so we're either going to close it or we're going to find funding for it," she said at that time.

The Legislature did not appropriate the money.

The 3,000-square-foot New York gallery operated in conjunction with the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, which operates the Alaska Native Arts Gallery in Anchorage, a showplace for contemporary and traditional work by Alaska Native artists at 500 W. Fifth Ave.

As of 11 a.m., Thursday, the Anchorage gallery was open but staff could provide no information regarding whether the closure of the New York space will affect the Alaska gallery or the foundation.

In a press release received on Friday, Tracy Foster, founding director of Alaska House, New York, said the enterprise is actively seeking to sublease its 3,000-square-foot gallery and meeting space in SoHo "while continuing to show the artists work by appointment."

"Alaska House will continue to operate ‘virtually,’ minimizing overhead by maintaining its inventory online. The nonprofit will also continue to advocate on issues of importance to rural Alaska, such as natural gas, Arctic development and climate change," Foster wrote.

Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.


By MIKE DUNHAM
mdunham@adn.com