2021 Individual Artist Awardees represent 21 Alaska communities

Five YK Delta artists chosen*

Rasmuson Foundation has named 36 Individual Artist Award recipients for 2021 including one group award.

The Foundation today (Sept. 15th, 2021) is announcing ten $18,000 Fellowships and 25 Project Awards of $7,500. Recipients were selected from a pool of nearly 300 applicants by a national panel of artists and creative community leaders from outside of Alaska. Many of the awardees had never applied before.

Juneau writer Ernestine Saankaláxt’ Hayes was previously announced as the 2021 Distinguished Artist recipient.

Collectively, the artists represent 21 communities stretching across Alaska: Akiachak, Anchorage, Bethel, Chevak, Chickaloon, Eagle River, Fairbanks, Haines, Homer, Hooper Bay, Juneau, Kasigluk, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kotzebue, Palmer, Saxman, Sitka, Sutton, Valdez and Wasilla. This year marks the first time the communities of Akiachak, Kasigluk, Saxman and Sutton have had artists represented.

Nine artistic disciplines are represented. They include poets, weavers, writers and filmmakers. One recipient is a puppeteer and another, a choreographer. Artists are working with wood and stone, glass and beads, fur and skin. Some are early career, while others have spent decades honing their practice. They are traditional, contemporary and sometimes both.

“The last year and a half have been tough for everyone but especially for artists, who have had to find creative ways to survive despite shuttered venues and canceled shows,” said Diane Kaplan, Foundation president and CEO. “Many have had to completely reinvent how they practice their art. To show that kind of resolve and adaptability, while maintaining excellence, is inspiring and brings a message of hope for our community.”

Fellowships are awarded to mid-career and mature artists ready for a year of focused creative development.

June Simeonoff Pardue of Sutton has been weaving Alutiiq baskets since she was 12 and now describes herself as an Alaska Native elder. She plans to design and create a contemporary Alutiiq garment of fish skins based on a study of traditional stitching and techniques. Sienna Shields of Anchorage, who describes beadwork as a meditation, plans to create an immersive bead installation out of hundreds of thousands of beads and miles of wire.

Project Awards support artists at all career stages for specific, short-term works. Rejoy Armamento, a second-generation Filipina American, plans to empower youth in Mountain View, the country’s most diverse neighborhood, by guiding them through creation of a mural that celebrates a unique part of Anchorage. Katie Ione Craney of Deishú, or Haines, will create installations for an evolving series of interactive work focused on vision and hearing. She is exploring memory and sensory-based communication.

The sole group award this year is going to Fairbanks musicians Scott Joyce and MaKaela Dickerson, performing as the alternative R&B duo Dumile. They plan to reinvent R&B in their own voice as they explore themes of place and identity.

“The range of artistic mediums, cultures and communities this year is a powerful representation of art in Alaska,” said Enzina Marrari, the Foundation program officer who oversees the Individual Artist Awards. “These artists are pushing boundaries and finding new ways to connect and explore.”

In addition to Project Awards and Fellowships, the Individual Artist Awards also recognizes one mature artist with a Distinguished Artist Award. Ernestine Saankaláxt’ Hayes, 2021 Distinguished Artist, was selected by an in-state panel and is being honored with a $40,000 award for a lifetime of creative excellence. Learn more about Hayes on our Distinguished Artist web feature.

Photos, videos and audio files are available on request.

Snapshots of all recipients and their projects accompany this release and are available on the Foundation’s 2021 IAA webpage.

Rasmuson Foundation has recognized exceptional Alaska artists with individual grant awards since 2004. The program now has made a total of 588 grants to individual Alaska artists: 416 Project Awards, 154 Fellowships and 18 Distinguished Artist awards totaling almost $5.6 million.

Rasmuson Foundation 2021 Individual Artist Award recipients


A single $40,000 award honors a mature artist of recognized stature with decades of creative excellence and accomplishment in the arts.

Ernestine Saankaláxt’ Hayes is a writer and professor emerita at the University of Alaska Southeast. Born in Juneau in what is called the “old Indian village” on the land of the A’akw Kwaan Lingít, she says her path was framed by place and circumstance: village, mountain, colonization.

She is of the Eagle moiety, a member of the Wolf House of the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Lingít (Tlingit) nation. Her writing is critically acclaimed and rich with the complexities of Indigenous identity. One of her best-known books is “Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir” (University of Arizona Press, 2006), for which she received the American Book Award. She was Alaska State Writer Laureate from 2017 to 2019. Her published works include poetry, a children’s book, creative nonfiction and fiction.


$18,000 awards allow mid-career or mature artists to focus energy and attention for a one-year period of creative development.

Tricia Brown of Anchorage will research and write a creative nonfiction book about Irene Sherman, known as the “Queen of Fairbanks.” In 1988, Brown first wrote about the woman who roamed Fairbanks streets. She will interview newly discovered relatives to learn more about Irene’s life.

Laura Carpenter, a writer and activist from Anchorage, will complete “The Storm Inside Me,” a queer young adult fantasy set 20,000 years ago. The novel centers around a girl’s journey to break a dangerous curse and save those she loves.

Gail Jackson, a percussionist in Anchorage, will record Southcentral Alaska nature sounds to use in live performances and then compile the resulting tracks into a CD. Jackson will also lead a residency program at a local grammar school to teach students about sound and vibration. Jackson received a Project Award in 2017.

Jill Osier is a poet from Fairbanks creating her second full-length poetry collection. Osier says the manuscript of 48+ poems is inspired by life in Alaska, exploring the physical and emotional distances accompanying love and loss and featuring the winter landscape of the North. Osier received a Project Award in 2014.

June Simeonoff Pardue, an artist living in Sutton, will study ethnographic fish skin pieces and traditional stitching to improve her sewing skills. She will harvest willows and turn fish skins into leather to sew a contemporary Alutiiq garment reflecting designs created by her ancestors.

Sienna Shields of Anchorage plans to use beadwork to create space for people to ponder things like quantum connections, DNA, memory and prayer. Using hundreds of thousands of beads and miles of wire, she will create an immersive bead installation by hand comprising nine thematic “rooms.”

*Steven Stone Sr. is a Yup’ik artist in Hooper Bay. He mentors young people, teaching them traditional arts and crafts, making tools such as harpoons and ulus, and guiding them in the Yup’ik way of life. He will expand his shop, allowing for use of bigger elements and more creativity. Stone received a 2016 Project Award.

ʼunei Lance Twitchell, of Áakʼw Ḵwáan Aaní or Juneau, will collaborate with fellow Indigenous screenwriters to write a screenplay in the Lingít, or Tlingit, language. The project explores the story of two brothers, whose knowledge of the land helped them make it home after escaping a Native American boarding school.

*Merna Wharton, an artist from Akiachak now living in Anchorage, plans to research styles of traditional Yup’ik fur parkas by traveling to museums and talking directly with families to replicate designs not made for generations. She will document and share her work with the community. Wharton received a Project Award in 2017.

Kenneth White of Saxman will invest in equipment allowing him to share stories of his experiences practicing traditional arts like storytelling, dancing, carving and drawing. White will make videos of carvings and create 3D models to use for reference and educational purposes.


Awards of $7,500 support emerging, mid-career and mature artists in specific, short-term projects.

Maïté Agopian of Fairbanks is a puppeteer who will create puppets and silhouettes on the theme of climate change for an Alaska consortium’s exhibit, “In a Time of Change: Boreal Forest Stories.” She credits puppetry with “power to touch, open new doors, and enhance learning environments.”

Sydney Akagi of Juneau is a Tlingit weaver who studied traditional methods including Ravenstail and Chilkat. To further her knowledge and help preserve these art forms, she will create a full-size ceremonial robe, documenting her work with photos, illustrations and writing.

*Polly Andrews, who is Cup’ik from Chevak, is a storyteller, poet, singer and dancer who plans to create new Alaska Native traditional/contemporary music and release her first album. She shares her work to “inspire identity, strength and cultural connectedness across diverse communities.”

Kendra Arciniega, an Anchorage-based literary artist and screenwriter, plans to create a scripted web series that tells the unique interwoven connections of LGBTQ+ BIPOC communities in her hometown.

Rejoy Armamento of Anchorage will create a 300-square-foot mural as part of the Mountain View Mural Walk, a dedicated public art project developed with community members to “reflect the unique character of the country’s most culturally diverse neighborhood.”

Bridget Brunner is a Valdez-based stained-glass artist who plans to construct a new stained-glass studio to support the growth of her business, creating a display area and space for community classes.

Katie Ione Craney of Deishú, or Haines, will create installations for an evolving series of interactive work focused on vision and hearing. She is exploring memory and sensory- based communication. Her work will include audio and written descriptions including in Braille.

KC Crowley of Anchorage will create books from Alaska-based materials, reducing dependence on outside sources by using sustainably collected plants, fish skins and other elements.

Dumile is an alternative R&B duo from Fairbanks that performs “sno-fi,” a sound synthesizing the circumpolar North with soul, jazz and funk. Scott Joyce is project director, guitar, bass, keys and percussion; and MaKaela Dickerson is project lead, vocals, keys and percussion. The musicians will purchase recording equipment for their home studio to track songs for a full-length debut album.

Sharon Filyaw of Ketchikan will purchase lapidary tools to gain more creative control cutting and shaping stones used in her art. She also will buy camera equipment and a lightbox to document baskets and sculptures of collected pine needle and stone.

Silas Firth of Homer will film and produce a documentary about the little-known 1918 sinking of the SS Princess Sophia. Firth will travel to learn more about how and where the ship struck a reef and the 350 people lost in the disaster.

Raymond Gamradt of Palmer will create a series of hand-framed large charcoal pieces depicting hunting, fishing, berry picking and other contemporary Alaska subsistence activities. He says the artwork will “embrace the subtlety in how people interact with the Alaskan landscape.”

Ishmael Angaluuk Hope of Dzantik’ihéeni, a name for Juneau referencing a nearby river, is a Tlingit poet who also works in video games and film. He will complete “Yéi Áyá Yaxh Shutaan: This is How It Ends,” written in the Tlingit oral epic style. The speculative fiction narrative, in Tlingit and English, tells the story of a Native man and his family’s experience with the world’s end.

Joshua Jeffries, an Anchorage-based musician who performs as Naessi, will create a full-length music album blending sounds recorded in Alaska’s wilderness and his own compositions. The resulting “digital instruments” will be available online for others to download.

Merritt Johnson of Sitka will create sculptures, employing weaving, casting and found objects in addition to paintings and work on paper. Johnson says the work considers the connection of female-identifying bodies and land as “locations of creation and sites of resistance and struggle.”

Maija Katak Lukin, an Iñupiaq skin sewer from Kotzebue, will create a full-length traditional fur parka using the same materials, furs and tools that her grandmother used in Sisualik, an old Inuit village. The process will be documented in film and photos as a tutorial.

Kendell Macomber, who is from Fairbanks and now lives in Anchorage, will build a new, safe space for people to learn aerial arts, gaining strength and confidence. She will focus on creativity, choreography, teaching and new ways of movement.

Larisa Manewal, a visual artist from Sitka, will create a body of work that includes photography, interviews and more to amplify the Panhandle perspective on Pacific herring.

Bjørn Olson of Homer will purchase professional video and audio equipment with the goal of bringing his viewers closer to the cultural and natural worlds encountered in his travels.

*“Quki” Golga Oscar, a Yup’ik artist from Kasigluk, will explore decolonization, resilience and seeking one’s identity in Western systems through photography and creation of Indigenous clothing — including a fancy parka, mukluks and five headdresses.

Tony Perelli, an Eagle River-based woodcraft artist, will purchase equipment to expand production of hand-turned eating utensils that are sustainably sourced from local materials. The resulting exhibit will be called “The Natural Setting.”

*Ralph Sara, a Yup’ik and Sámi media artist from Bethel, will create an audiobook and soundtrack based on his early life and recovery from the harms of alcohol titled “The Anonymous Eskimo.” Through storytelling and self-composed music, Sara will explore “redemption through recovery.”

Christina Seine of Wasilla plans to purchase a used cargo van, renovate it into a quiet, private writing studio and complete the research for her historical fiction novel. She will use the van to visit communities surrounding Resurrection Bay, where “Bodies of Water” is set.

Melissa Shaginoff, who is from Kenai and Chickaloon, will create a series of workshops and a performance piece around moose and caribou hide work from an Indigenous perspective. She also will help establish a community by hiring teachers and elders to share knowledge of hide work.

Karen Stomberg, a botanical artist in Fairbanks, will observe a single birch tree and its surroundings over the course of a year to create detailed drawings, monoprints and a soundscape for the group exhibition and book, “In a Time of Change: Boreal Forest Stories.”

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