JAHC response Ken Koelsch
Recently, I received a call from a former student in Montana (have not had a
conversation with him in years)-he talked among other things about his role in “Bye Bye
Birdie” in 1988 and what it meant to him and his friends even now.
For nearly 30 years, I taught at JDHS, many of those years I directed the annual
musical working with faculty and wide range of students and community members to
put on some of the most inclusive and special musical events in Juneau. I was fortunate
to work with the music, drama, art, and theater faculty as well as many community
members: teaching, directing, organizing, performing, coaching singing and acting,
building sets, selling tickets and advertising for the programs. The goal was to engage as
many students, faculty, and community members to create a memorable musical
Like the ’88 graduate, many former students remember the musical as one of their
most memorable experiences in high school. To this day, I still hear about the last
musical I directed, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” For many of these
students the spring musical was their only significant high school art experience, but
whether they were on-stage, part of the crew for changing the sets, running the lighting,
in the orchestra, painting the sets or designing the programs, many have become
lifelong participants and supporters of the arts in Juneau. Some own or work in
galleries, shops, services, restaurants or other tourism oriented endeavors; others work
for State, City or Federal Government but participate on and off the stage in the rich art
community in Juneau
Marian and I attend many art and theatre events in Juneau throughout the year-
Perseverance and high school plays, First Fridays, Gallery Walk, Wearable Art, and many
others. We support the annual fund raising events at the Canvas. We also actively
support our granddaughters in their dance classes and as they participate in the rich art
experiences in the Juneau schools, many made possible by the JAHC. This month our
granddaughter Kaylee was able to work every day for 3 weeks with local artist Marianne
Manning, Artist in Residence, at Gastineau School. Thank you for keeping this awesome
program going for nearly 40 years in Juneau’s schools.
2. I have read the JAHC Strategic Action Plan
The Willoughby District served as the cultural pinnacle of Juneau. It was serving that
purpose even in 1968 when we first arrived in Juneau. The Fireman’s ball in the
National Guard Armory (now the JAHC) was the event not to be missed. Mayor Bill
Overstreet recognized the Willoughby location as the logical center for the arts and
supported drilling a tunnel (the Overstreet underpass which is still there) connecting
Main street with Willoughby. With the construction of the SLAM project, the newly
renovated Elizabeth Peratrovich hall , the City Museum and the construction of the
Walter Sobeloff Heritage Center-the Willoughby District is even more centered (may be
time to reopen the tunnel).
Transportation and parking will be keys to further construction in the area-ideas need to
be revisited such as taking down the current three story State parking (foundation too
weak to add more stories)next to the State Office building and putting in eight stories of
parking (with an elevator that would exit on Calhoun) and would be available for free
after 4pm to the public. Building a multiple story parking area on the lot next to the
Federal building is also an idea. Bus transportation from the Valley and tram
transportation from downtown must also be added to the mix.
3. Having lived and worked in Juneau and the downtown area for many years, I have
seen the importance of a vital arts and culture community. Working everyday with the
cruise ship crew, passengers and the many and varied people involved in Juneau’s
tourism industry, I have seen firsthand how important the Arts are to Juneau’s economy
both through tourism and in galvanizing our role as Alaska’s Capital city.
A capital city should be more than a collection of government buildings; the Capital
City needs to lead as an Alaskan community focused on providing an environment that
serves the entire state, a community that exemplifies fiscal responsibility yet still finds a
way to develop and celebrate our unique culture and art. Several years ago the Juneau
economic development group (JEDC) put out a study that showed the importance and
vital role that the arts played in Juneau’s tourism industry/economy (over 1000 jobs).
That needs to be updated and used.
4. I served as co-chair of the Silver Anniversary committee and that group was
responsible for securing the Main Street bear. The Centennial committee and the Silver
Anniversary committees secured several other pieces of art for the community. With
the opening of the SLAM, the addition of the Skip Wallen Whale sculpture on the
waterfront and the Walter Sobeloff Center, it is time to market Juneau as a world class
art center. Like many visitors to Puerto Vallarta, art sculpture could be one of many
major themes that tied the downtown core together. The city may be able to
encourage more private/public/Rasmussen projects that vitalize (not revitalize) our art
5. I support a Cultural Campus in the Willoughby District to include an arts and culture
center. Again, repeating my answer for question number two: with the construction of
the SLAM project, the newly renovated Elizabeth Peratrovich hall, the City Museum, and
the construction of the Walter Sobeloff Heritage Center-the Willoughby District is even
more centered and functional as a Cultural Campus.
Again, I believe transportation and parking will be key to further construction in the
area and as mayor I will seek a solution.
6. These programs are very important for Juneau’s children. I have worked with some of
these programs when I taught Drama at JDHS. As I stated earlier my granddaughter,
Kaylee, this month was able to work every day for 3 weeks with local artist Marianne
Manning, Artist in Residence, at Gastineau School.
Some of these programs I am learning about. These programs are extremely important
to our schools especially now as funding and classroom staffing is being reduced.
7 I would anticipate a partnership of the CBJ, JEDC, JAHC, Juneau Chamber of Commerce,
Downtown Business Association, private citizens, and foundations to move the
Willoughby Arts complex forward.