Anchorage Museum brings Alaska to the world, the world to Alaska

  • Published
  • By David Bedard
Located in the heart of downtown Anchorage, the Anchorage Museum has been offering art and history to Alaska residents and visitors since 1968.

Sarah Henning, Anchorage Museum public relations manager, said the facility expanded its charter in 2008 with an added science dimension, when the museum merged with the Imaginarium Discovery Center. The $106 million expansion added 80,000 square feet, cementing the facility as the largest museum in the state.

Henning said the Museum offers benefits for Alaska visitors, newcomers and Sourdoughs.

"Our mission is twofold," she said. "We want to bring the best of Alaska to the rest of the world, and we want to bring the best of the rest of the world to Alaska.

"We recognize that a lot of Alaskans don't have the means or the time to leave the state, and we feel that shouldn't deny them an excellent world-class museum experience," Henner explained. "To that end, the museum has art, history and science. So you're able to have a very fulfilling Alaska experience here, and you're able to get a taste of what is going on in the rest of the museum world."

Henner said the museum is home to four permanent exhibitions: Alaska Gallery, Art of the North, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, and the Imaginarium Discovery Center.
The Alaska Gallery is devoted to the history of Alaska's people from pre-contact times to the present, with the gallery featuring artifacts from all Alaska Native cultures, the Russian occupation and the Gold Rush era.

The exhibition also features major events such as the 1964 9.2 magnitude earthquake and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The Art of the North exhibition presents regional landscape and peoples, featuring works by a diverse group of artists, including Syndney Laurence who is renowned as one of Alaska's most notable landscape painters. Art themes include exploration, lifestyles, wildlife and portraits.

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center is the first arrangement of its kind, with the Smithsonian Institution loaning hundreds of artifacts to the exhibition, allowing hands-on access to Alaska Native elders, artists and scholars.

The exhibition is home to more than 600 objects which were selected and interpreted with help from Alaska Native advisers.

Visitors interface with SASC objects through touch screens, which have more in common with smart phones or computers in the movie "The Minority Report," than they do with old labeling techniques.

"Museum theory has come a long way," Henner said of the newer interactive methodologies. "It's much more about engaging visitors. It's much more about hands-on activities, letting people learn through doing.

"The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center is a good example (of using technology) where, instead of using traditional static labeling, we have hands-on screens very similar to the way your iPhone works, and that's fabulous for two reasons," she continued. "One is that we can offer a ton of information, more than would ever fit on a traditional label. Two is we can constantly be updating information as new research is done.

"For children, the excitement of using a touch screen gets them more excited about what's in the cases behind the touch screen."

The Imaginarium Discovery Center hosts more than 80 hands-on exhibits designed to make earth, life and physical sciences engaging and fun for all ages.

"The Imaginarium Discovery Center is pretty fascinating, because it's hands on," Henning elaborated. "It's super exciting for children, but we find that for parents and grandparents, it's just as fun. It's a great place for families to learn through play."

The center features such attractions as an infrared camera where visitors can see themselves in the infrared light spectrum, and the Shake Table where visitors can construct a miniature building which then is subjected to tremors equivalent to the 1964 earthquake.

In addition to the permanent exhibitions, the Anchorage Museum is also host to exhibitions on loan from other major world museums.

From Nov. 5 until January, the museum will feature more than 90 art works by pop art icon Andy Warhol.

The spring will bring "Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age," featuring mammoth and mastodon fossils, replicas, interactive displays, and Lyuba, a well-preserved baby mammoth.

The museum has a shop stocked with authentic Alaska Native art, modern crafts, books and gifts corresponding to the facility's exhibitions. Muse Restaurant offers dining for museum visitors.

General admission is $10 for adults, $8 for senior, student and military patrons, $7 for ages 3 to 12, and is free for ages 2 and younger.

For annual rates, museum hours and more information, visit the Anchorage Museum website at

(Editor's note: This story is part of a continuing series highlighting major attractions in the area.)