State Museum in Juneau is well worth a visit
March 1, 2019
Think you know Alaska's entire story, told from the perspective of our capital city's residents? It might be time for a refresher at the Juneau State Museum, and March is the perfect month in which to visit.
One of two Alaska museums run by the state, the Juneau facility opened in 2016 at full capacity after a two-year, $139 million renovation to expand, enhance and encourage visitors.
Conveniently located within an easy walk of downtown Juneau and most hotels, the Alaska State Museum ( https://museums.alaska.gov/asm/ ) is hard to miss as one approaches Whittier Street near Centennial Hall. Vast and impressive, the building is a marvel of sleek architecture and Alaska heritage. Housing not just the museum itself but the State Archives and State Library as well, the building is not just a looker, but a source of information pertaining to history, culture, and governance of the Great Land.
During the summer, the museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in an effort to accommodate the masses of visitors set to arrive via ferry, cruise ship and airplane. During other times of the year, hours vary, so check the facility's website before a visit to maximize your Juneau experience. The website also posts upcoming exhibitions and events centered around themes important to Alaska's residents, and it's worth signing up for the online newsletter.
With a mission to "protect, preserve and interpret" the state's human cultural and natural history, Alaska State Museums are treasure troves for those interested in the life cycle of the farthest-north state in the Union (the second facility, Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, is smaller, older and located on the campus of what used to be Sheldon Jackson College. I highly recommend a visit). ( https://museums.alaska.gov/sheldon_jackson/sjHours.html )
Efforts toward this mission of preservation were endeavored in earnest, and it is obvious as one walks into the first collection, a Native Alaskan clan house that feels quiet and reserved after the busyness of a bustling Juneau day. Here is space to reflect and review the often-tragic history of Alaska Native People and their relationship with the strangers who appeared out of nowhere on board massive ships so long ago. It matters, and it is critical to expose Alaska's visitors to the realities of our history – good or bad, and they'll find it here, in an incredible series of displays that guests of any age will be drawn to ponder. Toys, clothing, tools - all things Alaskans utilized on a daily basis, and wonderfully preserved.
From forestry to tourism and Russia's interesting relationship with the 49th state, the museum masterfully arranges displays, presented in such a way as to prevent "museum burnout," a common malady for visitors who find walking from one exhibit to another, and another, too hard to take. Not so here.
How about a dress worn by Mrs. Bill Egan for Alaska's very first inaugural ball? Or, perhaps, a very old copy of The Milepost might tickle your traveling fancy. Kids are lucky to have their own room with activities to engage and space to spread out, with period costumes to try on and compare to those in the display halls, and the replica of an old sailing ship upon which to climb. Display cases have a kid-friendly viewing space as well, close to the ground and designed in a way so as to encourage children to learn more; written words, pictures, diagrams are all on the list. Visiting Juneau with grandchildren? This is a definite must-stop.
Allow at least 90 minutes to wander each exhibition in the museum's galleries (21 separate themes in all) then go back and visit the areas that truly made an impression on you. Ask questions, ponder timelines, and celebrate Alaska's rich history in person.
If you go
Location: 395 Whittier Street, Juneau, AK 99801. (907) 465-2901. Very accessible from most downtown Juneau hotels and the cruise ship docks. The facility doubles previous square footage, and has a lecture hall and classroom space as well.
Cost: Now through April 30, $5 adults, $4 seniors 65 and older, free to children 18 and under, free active duty military (with ID).
May 1 through Sept. 15, $12 adults, $11 seniors, free children 18 and under, free active duty military.
An annual pass is available for $25 for adults to visit both Juneau and Sheldon Jackson museum.
The museum is also fully accessible.
Juneau information: Visit the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau website, http://www.TravelJuneau.com for a complete list of lodging, dining and other capital city activities. Alaska Airlines flies to and from Anchorage and Seattle multiple times a day, making Juneau a nice stopover destination as well.
Interested in visiting the capitol building? The Alaska State Legislature website has information and building tour hours. March is a good time to visit since the Legislative session is in full swing. http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/pages/capitol.php
Erin Kirkland is an Anchorage-based travel journalist and author.