Sell the SJ Museum? State Plan Stirs Furor

Sentinel Staff Writer
     A state official told a state House Finance Subcommittee Friday that the state is looking into selling or transferring Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson Museum and the adjacent Stratton Library building, in line with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s directive.
    “Related to the governor’s directive, we have received a directive to look into selling or transferring properties in Sitka, namely the Stratton building and the Sheldon Jackson Museum,” Patience Frederiksen, the director of libraries, archives and museums told the subcommittee on Education and Early Development.   
    The SJ Museum dates from 1897 when it was founded by Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson. Sheldon Jackson College sold the museum and its world-renowned ethnographic collection to the state in 1983 and the building has been upgraded and expanded since then.
     “At this point, we’re still working out the details for (the Dunleavy) directive,” Frederiksen said. “The idea is that the building and its collection will be sold, and we will remove any state property ... but that the collection would remain with the museum and we would try to find someone in Sitka who would purchase the facility and hopefully with the end of operating it.”
    The museum is significant as the oldest concrete building in Alaska, and is a contributing building to the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark.

The Sheldon Jackson Museum and the Stratton library, at right, are pictured today. (Sentinel Photo)

    The museum has two full-time and two part-time employees, is open to the public, and operates education and museum programs, Patience Frederiksen told the subcommittee. The museum also has a Alaska Native artist residency program, and a program that loans educational artifacts to schools statewide.
    The idea of selling or transferring the museum out of state hands is being met by resistance by SJ Museum advocates, Sitka’s Sen. Bert Stedman and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who said he was “deeply concerned and opposed.”
    Stedman commented: “There is no way the state is going to sell off historical artifacts because of a momentary budget issues over the next couple of years ... One of the most important assets every generation faces is what they want to archive for future generations. Also, the historical significance of the SJ Museum is extremely high. It’s on the National Historic Register and has a collection that surpasses anything in the state or at the Smithsonian Institution.”
    The word of the proposed sale or transfer of the museum reached the ears also of the nonprofit Friends of the Sheldon Jackson Museum around midday on Friday. Board members sounded the alarm in the community, and started discussing strategies for responding.
    Rosemary Carlton, president of the Friends group, said she heard about the prospective sale of the properties from a source in Juneau, who advised her to stop by the SJ Museum, where staff had been provided with more details.
    “I was shocked; I was dumbfounded that this could be a possibility that it was being considered,” she said. “It’s a world-class museum right here in Sitka.”
    Carlton, who was an interpretation specialist at the museum for 17 years and curator for 8, said the museum is an asset not only to local residents and their schools, but Alaska Native groups who use the materials for important ceremonial activities. The museum is also a draw for visitors, she added.
    “It gets worldwide attention when materials are put on temporary loan in places like Paris, New York ....” Carlton said. “It’s an amazing collection that helps not only educate school groups here, but it’s educating the entire world on the Native peoples of Alaska.”
    The Friends group has already started getting the word out on the threat to the museum. Members selling tickets for their annual drawing had information about the Dunleavy directive on their sales table on Saturday.
    “It’s an institution that’s existed since the late 1880s and is still going,” Carlton said. “There’s not a lot of institutions like that in Alaska with such an important mission and collection.”
    Stedman agreed, and said it’s not an expensive museum to operate. He noted the cost of running Sheldon Jackson Museum pales in comparison to the some $100 million spent in recent years on the new state museum and archives in Juneau.
    “The SJ Museum is a rounding error in the scope of things,” the senator said.
    Frederiksen told the subcommittee on Friday the admission fees to the museum cover operation and maintenance, but not payroll and benefits. Stedman noted revenues from admissions will climb this summer and next with the forecast of increased cruise ship stops in Sitka.
    Stedman was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in 2010 when the state purchased the Stratton Library from the SJ Board of Trustees with the intent of using it as part of the SJ museum next door. He said today he plans to see that project through.
    “I’ll be meeting with the director of museums when she gets back in a few days, to see about finishing up Stratton Library, and getting it into the position of housing the collection, and generating income,” he said. The state has already renovated the siding and roofing but more work is needed for the building to be used to store materials and artifacts. He suggested income could be generated through renting out unused space in the building.
    Stedman is currently co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, in charge of the budget on the operations side. But he said he is taking notice when he hears developments on the House side that concern his Southeast communities, and is responding.
    “It showed I must have a pretty good heart – it didn’t give me a coronary but it got my heart running,” he said.

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At a Glance

(updated 5-30-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, May 30.

New cases as of Tuesday: 165

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 298,078

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,468

Case Rate per 100,000 – 22.64

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 58.70

Cases in last 7 days – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,424

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






June 2003

Sitka Community Hospital board of directors has asked SEARHC to stop providing most health care services to non-beneficiary patients. “During the collaborative process SEARHC has said they’re happy to do anything they can do to help,” said SCH Administrator Bill Patten. “This is one of the things they can do – not provide services to non-beneficiaries.”



June 1973

What began 50 years ago in a Methodist parsonage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will be celebrated Sunday in Sitka. Les and Caroline Yaw’s four children invite the couple’s many, many friends to attend a golden wedding anniversary reception at the Centennial Building.