Whether you’re culturally curious, into the arts or hung up on history, Anchorage’s arts and culture scene has you covered. Museums and galleries across town showcase perspectives, experiences, treasures and truths that offer insight into Alaska’s past, its contemporary landscape and the world beyond, as seen by artists, pioneers and others.
For many, the journey begins at the campus of the venerable Anchorage Museum (625 C St.), an easy walking distance for downtown-dwelling tourists. Permanent installations include “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First People of Alaska.” This interactive gallery showcases Alaska Native history, arts and culture, with more than 600 objects from the Smithsonian, selected and interpreted with counsel from Alaska Native groups.
From traditional clothing fashioned from skins and furs, intricate beadwork and baskets, and hand tools dating to long-ago times, it’s an impressive collection highlighting the resiliency, originality and beauty of Alaska Native cultures.
The Alaska Exhibition highlights the ingenuity, technology and connection to place that have allowed Alaskans to thrive, touching on areas such as aviation exploration, the military in Alaska, and significant industries such as mining and oil. Nearby, the Art of the North exhibit populates impressive gallery bays with sculptures, videos, photography and paintings, including the timeless works of Sydney Laurence, Alaska’s most-loved romantic landscape artist.
Current exhibits are featured on the museum’s website. Two that run through Sept. 3 are “Visitations: From Greenland to Iceland to Alaska in Borderless Arctic Seas,” by Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson, which explores how polar bears interact with humans in times of climate change; and “Pass the Mic,” which celebrates contemporary Alaska musicians and sound artists, inviting interactive participation in making and listening to the sounds and songs in Alaska today.
Other featured exhibits in summer 2023 include “Alaska Biennial,” which celebrates place through the lens of contemporary art. The “Black in Alaska” exhibit is the result of a collaboration between the Rasmuson Foundation and Black leaders to discuss critical issues to the Black community in Alaska.
The museum store sells unique items, with proceeds benefiting educational and public programs and exhibitions; items are also available for purchase online. A cafe in the atrium sells coffee, tea and snacks.
On summer Wednesdays, don’t miss the museum’s popular Lunch on the Lawn for live music and family activities in a beautiful green space. Included are fun food trucks, live local music, science activities and family-friendly games.
For cultural tourism devoted to Alaska’s Indigenous first peoples, the Alaska Native Heritage Center (8800 Heritage Center Drive) offers an encompassing celebration of the history and experience of Alaska Natives.
The Native Heritage Center is an indoor and outdoor facility that covers some 26 scenic acres, located northwest of the Glenn Highway and Muldoon Road. Its largely Alaska Native staff educates visitors about the enduring legacy of Alaska Natives, including their resiliency, unique traditions and shared experiences. It includes exhibits, demonstrations, a cafe and gift shop.
Many visitors will be surprised by Alaska’s broad range of Native cultures and traditions, and the Heritage Center presents an extraordinary chance to see it all in one place. Situated alongside a picturesque lake, the center includes recreated village sites, a glimpse into more traditional ways of life that visitors can freely explore.
The Heritage Center reopens for summer season on May 17, 2023, and is open seven days a week through summer.
The Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center are the best-known of their kind in the region, but many other cultural centers and museums address both broad topics and niche interests.
Downtown Anchorage, visitors will find the Fraternal Order of the Alaska State Troopers Alaska Law Enforcement Museum (245 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 113). Admission is $5, or $3 for military, law enforcement, youth and seniors, and the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.
This specialty museum houses the state’s only collection of historical law enforcement memorabilia, including an authentically restored 1952 Hudson Hornet automobile. The troopers museum also sports antique radios, handcuffs and leg irons, early wiretapping equipment, old photographs and documents and Alaska policing uniforms. Exhibits showcase women in Alaska law enforcement and one room contains a remarkable collection of law enforcement patches. There’s even a gift shop with Alaska State Troopers memorabilia and souvenirs.
Also downtown is the Oscar Anderson House, a 1915 home in storied Bootleggers Cove that was home to the 18th settler to arrive in “Tent City.” The charming cottage now surrounded by a park and looking out across the waters west of Anchorage is a National Trust for Historic Preservation “Distinctive Destination.” For current hours, check its website.
On Anchorage’s east side, the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature (201 N. Bragaw St.) is a hidden gem showcasing the unique science of Alaska, from prehistoric times to present. The museum is designed to take visitors of all ages on a learning adventure exploring Alaska’s unique geological, cultural and ecological background. The museum is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
Another unique stop from Anchorage’s roster of museums is the Alaska Aviation Museum (4721 Aircraft Drive), on the shores of Lake Hood Seaplane Base west of Midtown Anchorage, billed as the busiest seaplane base in the world. In and of itself, Lake Hood is worth a stop and photo op, or even a walking tour around the lake complex to enjoy watching landings and takeoffs and photograph its colorful floatplanes.
The Aviation Museum is among Anchorage’s top attractions, with artifacts and relics of Alaska’s remarkable air travel history that will delight aviation buffs. There are more than two dozen vintage aircraft on display in four hangars, and also outdoor exhibits. The Aviation Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday; entry is $17.50 for adults, $14.50 for seniors and veterans, $10.50 for children 3-13, and $48 for a family of up to two adults and three children.
And before leaving Alaska, there are more arts and culture opportunities to be found at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
First, on the lower level is the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. This ever-growing exhibit celebrates Alaska athletes, sporting events and moments, paying homage to some of the state’s greats.
A few names will ring bells with visitors from the Lower 48, like cross-country skiing Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall and NBA player Mario Chalmers. Inductees offer interesting peeks into Alaska’s unique sports culture and Arctic pursuits. The Hall of Fame celebrates dog mushing feats, mountain climbing and other athletic advocacy, and the lovely hall of portraits include compelling captions and context.
The main airport past security features a bronze, life-size statue of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, for whom the airport is named. The statue depicts “Uncle Ted,” as Alaskans fondly called him, seated on a bench with an arm outstretched, as though midsentence, making a point. It’s a point of interest for fans of Alaska politics and history, in which Stevens was pivotal for decades.
Finally, the airport offers a fine display of Alaska Native art. The “Art in Public Places” gallery covers two areas, with the main collection on the C Concourse mezzanine level, and additional light-sensitive pieces in the Northern Lights Corridor that connects the main terminal to rental car and railroad facilities. It’s a last chance for visitors to take in beautiful creations unique to the 49th state before their Last Frontier adventure draws to a close.