The Alaska Native Arts Foundation has announced it will close this spring. The foundation began in 2002 with the goal of creating "a new model for the sale and stature of Alaska Native art" and increasing economic opportunities for Alaska Native artists.
The dissolution of the foundation is primarily due to economic factors, said Secretary-Treasurer Veronica Slajer. The group had operated with a combination of government grants and private funding. "The business model broke down a couple of years ago," she said. "We couldn't mark (the art) up enough to make the money back. The federal grant was only for a period of time and it expired. We lost state funding last year and obviously the coming years won't be the time to seek more state funding."
"We also realized that our work is done," Slajer said. "When we got into this, nobody else was there, really. Now at least half of the regional corporations are working to develop markets and help artists in their regions. There are more people in the private sector doing it, too.
"We didn't want it to end, but it's just a different time."
The roster of founding directors contained a mix of artists, politicians and business people, including Willie Hensley, Gail Schubert, Sonya Kelliher Combs, Susie Bevins Ericsen, Barbara Overstreet and Alice Rogoff, publisher of the Alaska Dispatch News.
Over the past 14 years it has sponsored workshops and provided grants to assist Native artists both in urban and rural areas of the state. It set up an e-commerce site and opened a gallery in downtown Anchorage that sold traditional crafts and contemporary art. The gallery held solo and group shows for both established and emerging artists. Among notable names who had their work showcased in the gallery early on were Erica Lord, Patrick Minock, Nicholas Galanin, Brian Adams, Mark Hoover and Ayapo Moore.
The foundation also sponsored Alaska artists and hosted fashion shows in out-of-state venues, including Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Miami and Paris. It was a partner to a New York City store featuring Native art, Alaska House, which was founded and financed by Rogoff and closed in 2010.
More than 1,300 Alaska Native artists were ultimately represented by the foundation over the course of its existence. Originally, the foundation bought all of the art it sold, but after the Anchorage gallery opened, a limited number of pieces were accepted on consignment. Slajer estimated about 20 percent of the stock is currently on consignment.
It will all go on sale starting at 4 p.m. Friday at the gallery located at 500 W. Sixth Ave. The going-out-of-business sale is a one-day thing, Slajer said. "There'll be some private sales. After that, we'll see where we're at."
The legacy of the foundation will continue, Slajer said. "We're in the enviable position of being able to identify our assets and think about which group we're going to gift them to." The assets include intellectual property. Slajer said the board would be identifying the group in the near future.