Anchorage Museum expands, renovates

The Anchorage Museum has continued to evolve since its founding in 1968. The most recent evolution of Alaska’s largest museum is the addition of the new Rasmuson Wing and a reinvigorated Alaska exhibition.

Inside the 31,000-square-foot Rasmuson Wing visitors will be able to experience the Art of the North galleries which feature works of romantic depictions of Alaska’s landscape to contemporary reflections on society including paintings, sculptures and photos.

The Anchorage Museum’s new Ramuson Wing officially opens Friday, Sept. 15. The new wing will feature The Art of the North galleries, which is a collection of different perspectives of the North. Photo credit: Jay Guzman.

Anchorage Museum CEO Julie Decker is looking forward to having increased space to provide the public access to more artwork. That access is critical to the museum’s mission, according to Decker.

“I think it’s an opportunity to have hundreds — literally hundreds — more works of art on public view,” Decker said.

The Art of the North galleries will contain over 200 works of art pulled from storage. As most museums can only display up to around 10 percent of their collections, according to Decker, having more room will be a boon to both the public and the museum.

The last major update to the museum happened around seven years ago, but the Alaska history gallery had been unchanged since the mid-80s. Prior to its update, the space was beginning to look like it belonged in a museum about museums.

With the renovated Alaska Exhibition, visitors will have a more immersive experience with updated displays and the inclusion of multi-media dimensions.

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Anchorage Museum curator of Alaska history and culture, Aaron Leggett, said the exhibition will now be able to tell a more cohesive story about Alaska’s history and look beyond stereotypes as well as showing the state’s relationship with the world at large.

“The overall theme for the exhibition really centers around humans’ impact on the environment and how the environment impacted humans,” Leggett said.

Museum visitors want the experience of walking away with thought-provoking ideas or questions, according to Leggett, and it’s the museum’s job to provide that.

“We’re not saying we have the answers, but we want to point out some of the patterns that we’ve seemed to notice over the last 10,000 years,” Leggett said.

Unlike most other museums that specialize in subjects like art or history, the Anchorage Museum has the formidable task of showcasing art, design, history, culture and science.

“That may sound like a daunting mission, but if you can say instead our mission is to tell the story of the North and how the North is relevant to the world, then you can’t do it without talking about all those things, because all of those are important parts of our society,” Decker said.

In addition to the enhanced exhibitions, renovations to the museum include an update to the atrium and the A Street Patio.

The expansion was designed by McCool Carson Green Architects. Principal architect with the firm, John Weir, said the design was intended to interact with the existing structure. By using untreated yellow cedar panels from Southeast Alaska on the facade of the addition, over time, residents can witness the wood change color as it becomes weathered and slowly takes on a gray hue, eventually mimicking the metal exterior of the museum entrance.

“That’s going to be the interesting part of the evolution of the project, that they’re going to look similar, but they’re going to do it in their own special way,” Weir said.

Another unique aspect of the expansion is that much of the second floor is supported by a cantilever and is suspended about five feet above the existing wing. This allowed for minimal penetration into the rest of the museum’s structure.

Funding for the update came from private contributions, which included $12 million from the Rasmuson family and Rasmuson Foundation. The project was on time and within budget, according to information provided by Anchorage Museum public relations and marketing manager Jeanette Moores.

The grand opening of the expansion and renovation will be Sept. 15.

Admission prices are $15 for adults, $12 for Alaska residents, $10 for seniors, students or military with ID, $7 for children 3 to 12 and free for children 2 and younger.

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