Connecting to Alaska Native Culture through Today’s Indigenous Artists
With 229 federally recognized tribes, 20 distinct cultures, and 300 different dialects, Alaska Native culture is interwoven in endless ways through the fabric of Alaska’s history and culture. The artistic traditions of these cultures are diverse, from beautiful beadwork to basketry to carvings both large and small. With traditions and skills passed down for thousands of years, contemporary Alaska Native artists continue to tell their stories through a diverse array of traditional and modern art. Below are just a few of the ways that you can experience Alaska Native artwork on your next trip to Alaska:
Alaska’s largest cities are home to a growing number of monumental works of mural art by Alaska Native artists. The Alaska Mural Project, a collaborative community organization hosted by the Anchorage Museum, has overseen the installation of 9 murals in downtown Anchorage since 2020, many of which feature artwork by Indigenous artists.
Not to be missed on your next visit to downtown Anchorage are two recent works: a beautiful mural depicting the Chugach Mountains and representations of several different Alaska Native tribes by Crystal Worl (Tlingit and Athabascan) on G Street and 7th Avenue, and a colorful mask peeking from the side of the Kobuk building on E Street and 5th Avenue by Drew Michael (Inupiaq & Yup’ik). Visit the Alaska Mural Project website for a full list of murals and locations.
Visitors to Juneau are also treated to another spectacular mural by Crystal Worl: the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural in downtown on the south wall of Juneau’s Public Library. Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit civil rights activist that fought for equality for Alaska Native peoples, is depicted in front of a raven and sockeye salmon – representing her moiety and clan.
The Native Movement building in Fairbanks is home to a new community mural depicting the words “what the hands do, the heart learns” and images of local Elders and Alaska Native children taken by Native Movement staff photographer Jeff Chen. This mural is the first of a collaborative community mural project that will feature new artwork by local Alaska Native artists. Learn more about the mural project here.
INDIGENOUS PLACE NAMES PROJECT
The Anchorage Park Foundation recently launched the collaborative Indigenous Place Names Project to honor traditional Dena’ina Athabascan placenames throughout Anchorage. Sculpture, Dena’ina language, and explanations of the area’s cultural significance are combined on these public art installations. The metal artwork encircling the signs was designed by Athabascan and Paiute artist Melissa Shaginoff and represents a Dena’ina fire bag with Dentalium beadwork. The place name sculptures are being installed in phases, with the first three sculptures installed at Chanshtnu Muldoon Park, Westchester Lagoon, and Point Woronzof. Visit the Indigenous Place Names Project website and watch this Culture Stories video to learn more.
Visiting museums is likely the first activity that comes to mind when thinking about experiencing local art. Alaska is home to fantastic museums statewide that house not only Alaska Native artifacts and historical displays but also feature works and demonstration by contemporary artists.
Two of the best museums in Alaska for viewing artwork by contemporary Indigenous artists are the Anchorage Museum and the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau. At the Anchorage Museum, both permanent and temporary exhibitions share stories from Alaska’s Indigenous cultures today through a wide variety of mediums including photography, film, graphic arts, regalia, tattoo, and more in immersive displays.
Sealaska Heritage Institute's Walter Soboleff Building in downtown Juneau is home to the largest collection of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian art in Alaska. The building itself is a work of art, featuring stunning 40-foot red metal artwork on the building’s exterior designed by Haida artist Robert Davidson, along with three bronze house posts in front of the building designed by TJ Young (Haida), David R. Boxley (Tsimshian), and Stephen Jackson (Tlingit). Inside the building visitors will see more monumental artwork, including a beautiful house front by David R. Boxley, and a stunning glass screen inside the Clan House by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary. The Sealaska Heritage Institute Arts Campus is a gathering place and educational facility for artists, with indoor-outdoor studio space, art exhibits, and an outdoor event space for performances and markets.
Several museums and cultural centers throughout the state offer one of the best ways to experience Alaska Native art first-hand: through interactive art demonstrations. Make sure to check out the event calendars at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Morris Thompson Cultural Center in Fairbanks, Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Inupiat Heritage Center in Utqiagvik, and the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center for opportunities to attend art demonstrations and classes, including carving, beading, jewelry making, and other traditional crafts.
SUPPORTING ALASKA NATIVE ARISTS
Purchasing artwork by Alaska Native artists allows you to bring a piece of Alaska Native culture home with you, helps support Indigenous artists, and perpetuates cultural traditions that have been passed down through generations. Alaska Native artwork, including jewelry, carvings, paintings, masks, clothing, and so much more can be purchased throughout the state at local shops and galleries, museum stores, events, and markets. Make sure that the items that you’re purchasing are authentic: look for the Silver Hand sticker, which guarantees that the piece is made by an Alaska Native artist. Don’t see the sticker? Ask the shop and gallery owners about the artists. If you’re at a market or event you can often talk directly with artists at their tables to learn more about their craft. Explore our Alaska Native Festivals & Events page for a list of some of the state’s largest gatherings of Alaska Native artisans.
No matter how you choose to learn about and connect with Alaska Native culture during your visit, we encourage you to be thankful, respectful, and curious. Learn more about how you can practice Alaska Native values as you explore Alaska.
New! Alaska Native Culture Guide
Immerse yourself in Alaska Native heritage and learn how to experience the living culture of the state's Indigenous peoples.