Duke Russell admits he’s been preoccupied.
Russell, who has been a stalwart on the Anchorage arts scene for decades, has been a major advocate for city residents experiencing homelessness. He’s helped provide meals to unhoused people staying at Centennial Park Campground this summer.
But Russell says he’s excited to dive back headlong into creating the unique Alaska art that has become his calling card.
This week, Russell was honored by the Rasmuson Foundation with the President’s Award. The $7,500 award “recognizes an individual devoted to the arts — and to giving back.” This marks just the second time in the foundation’s history that it has been awarded.
The recognition bestowed on Russell was one of the more than 30 Individual Artist Awards announced Wednesday by the Rasmuson Foundation, an Alaska-centered philanthropy group that works with a wide range of individuals and organizations, often providing funding and developing partnerships.
“The award was a surprise and I’ve been sort of been consumed by the Centennial Park situation and trying to get caught up while still trying to keep in touch with their needs,” Russell said.
While he said his efforts at Centennial have taken priority, he has a few art projects that are about to become public, including one on Anchorage’s bike culture with photographer December Hansen.
Russell said the situation at Centennial has highlighted both the failures of local government but also the impact of dedicated volunteers.
“If a guy on the back of a scooter can produce 50 meals, why are these people going hungry?” he asked. “I learned their names and heard their stories and looked in their eyes. ... I saw that there was a need and it helped me realize my own power.”
Earlier this year, Fairbanks photographer James H. Barker was named Rasmuson’s 2022 Distinguished Artist, an award that honors lifetime achievement in creative fields and contribution to the state’s arts and culture and comes with an award of $40,000.
The other awards announced Wednesday included $18,000 Fellowships for 10 artists or groups. Fellowships “allow mid-career or mature artists to focus their energy and attention for a one-year period of creative development,” the foundation said in a statement.
Fellowship recipients include:
• Dolores Catherino, Anchorage, music composition
• Alanna DeRocchi, Anchorage, visual arts
• Jill Flanders Crosby, Eagle River, choreography/dance and media arts
• Ilgavak (Peter Williams), Akiak/Sheet’ka, folk and traditional arts and visual arts
• Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Anchorage, visual arts
• Tamara McCoy, Anchorage, presentation/interpretation
• Pipeline Vocal Project, Anchorage, presentation/interpretation
• Alex Sallee, Anchorage, media arts
• Kathy Turco, Fairbanks, media arts and literary arts/scriptworks
• Allison Akootchook Warden, Kaktovik, music composition
Twenty-five more artists and groups received Project Awards of $7,500 each. Those awards are designed to “support emerging, mid-career and mature artists in specific, short-term projects.”
This year’s Project Award recipients include:
• Keara Anderson, Healy, media arts
• Beth Blankenship, Anchorage, crafts
• Jeff Chen, Anchorage, visual arts
• Jessica Cherry, Anchorage, literary arts/scriptworks
• Michael Conti, Anchorage, media arts
• Michele Kawahine Danner, Utqiagvik, craft and media arts
• Jacob Dee, Anchorage, music composition
• Steve Durr, Talkeetna, music and visual arts
• Zak Dylan, Sitka, music composition
• Sean Enfield, Fairbanks, literary arts/scriptworks
• Andrea L. Hackbarth, Palmer, literary arts/scriptworks
• Derek Haukaas, Anchorage, music composition
• Janissa J. Johnson, Larsen Bay, folk and traditional arts
• Ted Kim, Anchorage, visual arts
• Jiabao Li, Anchorage, new genre
• David “Lou” Logan, Juneau, folk and traditional arts
• Klara Maisch, Fairbanks, visual arts
• Kim McNett, Homer, visual arts
• John Messick, Soldotna, literary arts/scriptworks
• Erica Miller, Hope, visual arts
• Northwoods Book Arts Guild, Fairbanks, visual arts
• Gail Priday, Fairbanks, visual arts
• Riva Sazama, Fairbanks, visual arts
• Seward’s Folly Media, Fairbanks, music composition
• Taylor Dallas Vidic, Juneau, music composition