The Northern Initiative is a project of The Anchorage Museum with the goal of using art to spark conversation about how to leverage the distinctiveness of place and position Anchorage as a pivotal city in the Circumpolar North.

ArtPlace spoke with Julie Decker, Chief Curator at the Anchorage Museum, about the process.

ARTPLACE: Who outside your organization has been key to your ability to move your initiative forward?

DECKER: For us, it’s other museums as collaborators in the success of this project, but also artists, scientists, and other researchers, in addition to community-based partners.  For museums, collaboration with community-based partners has become an increasingly popular method of expanding audiences, services, and funding opportunities. For community-based organizations, museum collaborations offer the benefits of discipline expertise and programming, increased capacity and new opportunities for constituents, as well as the potential for developing new funding sources.  We are working to go beyond reaching out to individuals and organizations within our own communities with similar missions: educators, schools, and other cultural institutions. While it’s important to collaborate with parallel organizations, this project is about finding new partners and connections, and going outside the norm so that exciting new tie-ins and opportunities might occur.

ARTPLACE:  Are there secrets to good partnerships?

DECKER:  The first secret is cultivating people who also believe in the “cause.”  In this case, the cause is the vision statement for the Northern Initiative—the idea that Anchorage and Alaska can grow and become more vital by making stronger connections internally and externally and finding commonalities with other Northern cities.  The “cause” and the motivations need to be authentic and the cause also needs to be big and bold. It’s not a goal; it’s a purpose, it feeds and fuels passion, creates momentum and binds cultures.  Anchorage needs to find its ultimate competitive advantage, just like a corporation might.  And a great cause is about letting go of the old way of doing things and being aspirational and willing to take some risks; being better able to deal with change.

Another secret to good partnerships is to allow everyone to think and act like owners, creating a culture where everyone knows that creating long-term value counts and to understand that leadership means long-term commitment and stewardship; putting the project before self-interest.  Good stewards of projects share information, are accessible, and continually communicate—formally and informally.  Good stewards keep their hands dirty, listen, talk, ask questions, and show interest.

ARTPLACE:  Can you give an example?

DECKER:  We recently hosted our Next North Symposium, which was a partnership with the Alaska Design Forum and the Art Gallery of Alberta, and which brought together thought leaders from around Alaska, the country and the world, to bring ideas about the future of the North, and its impact on the rest of the globe, to the table for discussion.  The most exciting part of the experience was that everyone expressed the value have having brought people from multiple disciplines and backgrounds together.  Artists sharing their research with scientists and policy makers was a rich experience.  Native Alaska leaders speaking about climate change, art and the changes in their culture provided a significant and power counter to an outsider point-of-view.   This was a great kickoff to our Northern Initiative as it demonstrated the strength in bringing a variety of backgrounds together for in-depth discussion about place and change.  People were energized and within three days dozens of suggestions for and movement toward future collaboration had been formed.


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