Rasmuson Foundation, family gift $24M to Anchorage Museum

The Anchorage Museum is getting a big financial boost from the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Rasmuson family, for an expansion. It’s a gift of $24 million — $12 million from the foundation will be matched by the Rasmuson family.

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The museum expansion as seen from 6th and B streets. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.
The museum expansion as seen from 6th and B streets. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.

Diane Kaplan is the President and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation. She says it’s the largest gift the Rasmuson Foundation has ever given. The idea is to help the museum offer more space for temporary and permanent exhibits.

KAPLAN: There’s a lot of art that the public would be interested in seeing in storage, and a lot of it will get to be available for people to experience going forward.

TOWNSEND: The expansion will feature a large space devoted to Sydney Laurance, Eustace Ziegler and other Alaska masters… Why is this an important addition to the museum?

KAPLAN: That area that’s been in the museum for many, many years is one of the most popular here. But because of the demand for temporary exhibits and special exhibits, it’s not always available to the public. So right now, for example, those paintings are not available. And I think we all regret that people will come and visit, and locals here and people from around the state will visit and not have a chance to visit those treasures of Alaska. So this will make it possible for those to always be on exhibit.

Proposed entry gallery. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.
Proposed entry gallery. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.

TOWNSEND: Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson were instrumental in the creation of the Anchorage Museum. Why did they believe the museum was so important to Anchorage and Alaska?

KAPLAN: When Elmer was the mayor of Anchorage, he initiated the effort to have the museum. He really believed that any great city had to have a great museum. So he took it upon himself to get the (Anchorage) Assembly to set aside a block in downtown for a museum. And then he and Mary Louise hosted the first fundraising event in 1966. I understand it was a pretty interesting meeting where he sat at the head of the table with some of his friends, took out his checkbook and said, ‘I’m writing a check and would you all please take your checkbooks out, I expect you to write one too!’ So that’s how it started. The first museum opened on the site in 1968. Mary Louise served as head of the museum commission. And this was a favorite of the many, many things they supported in Alaska over the years.

TOWNSEND: There’s such a lot of focus right now on the current budget crisis that it seems makes this large gift of particular note. Are you worried the museum is building something the future economy of the state and the city won’t be able to maintain — or is this sort of a statement about the faith going forward?

KAPLAN: I do think it’s a reminder that we have to continue to invest in making Anchorage a great city — one that has qualities that attract people and businesses. The expansion is going to be 100 percent privately funded. But, for example, instead of building the kind of wing that would have very significant operating expenses attached to it, the decision was made to take advantage of the facility we have and grow it. There’s been a very thorough business plan constructed and we’re confident that the growing membership to the museum, the growing donations to the museum, the growing participation and visitorship, that this will be very supportable going forward.

Diane Kaplan is the President and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation. Museum Director Julie Decker says the expansion will largely be a vertical addition.

Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.
Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.

“What we are doing is building on top of the only remaining one story section of the building that’s left, we’re building a second story on top of that, so if you went down 6th Avenue and before you got to A street, you would see a brick portion of the building from the original 1968 structure and we’re building a second story there.”

Decker says with the current economic worries in the state, local construction projects are an important positive message about the future.

“I think what people want to see at all times to know the economy is healthy and future oriented, to see growth and so from a construction point of view and for other trades, I think it’s an important time to have a high profile and significant project going up.”

The expansion will be funded entirely with private money.

The Anchorage Museum's proposed expansion, as seen from 6th and A. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.
The Anchorage Museum’s proposed expansion, as seen from 6th and A. Photo courtesy Anchorage Museum.
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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori