Alaska’s Black communities, past and present, celebrated with exhibit and business expo at Anchorage Museum

“Black Lives in Alaska: Journey, Justice, Joy”, february, museum, black history month

With Black History Month underway, this marks one of the last weekends to see “Black Lives in Alaska: Journey, Justice, Joy” at the Anchorage Museum before the exhibit closes Feb. 13.

Museum visitors can also attend the Alaska Black Business Expo, which will be held in the museum’s atrium from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Admission to the museum, which is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is free all day Saturday, Feb. 5, thanks to the Alaska Black Chamber of Commerce and The Business Boutique.

“Black Lives in Alaska” opened last April and is a community collaboration intended to honor the richness and resilience of Alaska’s Black communities. Divided into three sections — “Journey, Justice, Joy” — the exhibit takes viewers through the lives and histories of Black Alaskans, a notably underrepresented and underdocumented community.

The exhibit tells the story of the various ways Black people arrived in Alaska, gives an overview of civic participation, highlights the accomplishments of Black Alaskans and offers a call to action, said Cody Carver, programs and events manager at the museum.

[Here’s how to celebrate Black History Month, around Anchorage and virtually]

The Alaska Black Business Expo was created seven years ago by Jasmin Smith, a local community leader, to celebrate the accomplishments of past and current Black inventors and business owners. Saturday’s event will feature vendors, activities for kids and breakout sessions for those who’d like to learn about growing their own business.

“Black Lives in Alaska: Journey, Justice, Joy”, february, museum, black history month

The “Black Lives in Alaska” advisory board — consisting of members Celeste Hodge Growden, Cal Williams, Jovell Rennie and Natasha Webster — helped provide historical insight and creative input on aspects of the exhibit including design, arrangement and the development of themes, said Ryan Kenny, the museum’s deputy director of exhibitions and program operations.

Dr. Ian Hartman, an associate professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage, advised on content and historical scope for the exhibition, Kenny said.

Continued community work from the museum’s archival department will be done past the close of the exhibit, said Zakiya McCummings, public relations and marketing manager for the museum.

“Black Lives in Alaska: Journey, Justice, Joy”, february, museum, black history month

Joshua Branstetter, a Filipino American photographer in Anchorage, has work included in the exhibit.

“We can’t see the whole picture unless we allow the conversation to include our diverse communities,” he said.

Branstetter attended a protest in Anchorage in 2020 as Alaskans rallied in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer.

“When you see the parking lot full of so many Alaskans … all united because we just don’t want to see this happen anymore, it was overwhelming,” he said. “This was really about not being silent. Not sitting on the sidelines. Doing what you can to help and, in my case, that was picking up my camera.”

Branstetter is thankful for the relationships he’s built from attending those rallies.

“These are people’s lives and they exist beyond the exhibit,” Branstetter said.

[Correction: This story has been updated to correct the end time for Saturday’s Alaska Black Business Expo. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly spelled Joshua Branstetter’s last name.]

Emily Mesner

Emily Mesner is a multimedia journalist for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously worked for the National Park Service at Denali National Park and Preserve and the Western Arctic National Parklands in Kotzebue, at the Cordova Times and at the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Michigan.