Local to lead state arts agency

Friday, January 6, 2017 - 19:41
Noble-Pelant has held interim title at the ASCA since May, 2016
  • Andrea Noble-Pelant of Eagle River has been named executive director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, a position she'd held on an interim basis since May of 2016. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Eagle River’s ties to the Alaska State Council on the Arts date back generations, so it’s appropriate the state agency drew its newest executive director from the area.

Eagle River’s Andrea Noble-Pelant was officially named to lead the state agency at the end of December, making permanent a job title she’d held on an interim basis since last May.

“Arts have always been a part of my life, so this is really energizing,” Noble-Pelant said during a Dec. 31 interview at the Star offices in Eagle River.

As executive director, she’ll oversee an agency tasked with running several statewide arts programs, administering grants to artists, and engaging in partnerships with private groups and foundations. Among the agency’s programs are the Alaska Native Arts program, the Percent for Art program (which also manages the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank), the Alaska State Writer Laureate program, the Artists in Schools program, and the
Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities.

That’s a lot of work for a small agency, but Noble-Pelant said the council’s four-person staff is “small but mighty.”

“We work smart and keep our priorities in sight,” she said.

Raised and educated in Canada, Noble-Pelant has lived in Alaska for 18 years and has spent the past 10 as the Visual and Literary Arts Program Director at ASCA. She previously worked as a teacher in the U.S. and Canada, and spent three years as the Curator of Art Education at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art at Rasmuson Center.

In a press release announcing her promotion, ASCA chair Ben Brown called Alaskans “very fortunate” to have Noble-Pelant working on their behalf.

“Andrea’s experience and temperament are ideally suited to the challenges facing ASCA today and she will do an outstanding job leading the agency,” Brown said.

Noble-Pelant’s job also includes making the case for funding the arts to Alaska politicians. One of her main arguments is that arts don’t just benefit artists, but the entire economy of the area.

“Arts and culture is an economy, and our work is to bring that value a little closer to the surface,” she said.

Noble-Pelant explained that arts go hand-in-hand with virtually all sectors of an economy, from health care and the service industry to tourism, education and public safety.

“To have a thriving arts economy is a very good measure of the health of a community,” she said.

By delivering grants to Alaska artists and art programs, Noble-Pelant said the ASCA provides a way for artists to use their work to enrich the community as a whole.

“We’re really in the business of providing professional development for artists’ work and making sure that arts culture is part of our physical economy,” she said.

Even in difficult fiscal times, it’s a message that doesn’t necessarily fall on deaf ears in Juneau. In fact, Noble-Pelant said many of the legislators she works with have deep, personal connections with the arts and are supportive of the ASCA’s mission.

She said that group includes former Sen. Bill Stoltze, a Republican who recently retired from the Legislature after serving Chugiak and the Mat-Su for a dozen years in the State House and two more in the State Senate. Noble-Pelant said Stoltze allowed a proposal by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) to create a specialized arts license plate to be attached to an existing Stoltze bill during the last session. Stoltze’s support of the idea was critical, Noble-Pelant said.

“Kudos to him for doing that.”

The arts plate design will be chosen during a statewide contest beginning at the end of January. The contest will be held every four years, and the plates will be available to Alaskans for $50 each.

Stoltze’s link to the ASCA actaully dates back several decades to when his grandmother – Chugiak homesteader Margaret Mielke – was named the state’s first Poet Laureate (now called the Writer Laureate). According to an online biography at the UAA-APU Consortium Library where her papers are kept, Mielke and her husband John moved to Alaska in 1940. In addition to being one of the area’s first homesteaders, Mielke was a widely published author who worked as poetry editor at the Anchorage Times and helped start the Poetry Society of Alaska and the League of Alaska Writers.

“Everybody has a personal connection to the arts,” Noble-Pelant said.

Noble-Pelant will oversee an agency whose budget was $2.5 million in 2016. About 30 percent of the ASCA’s funding (about $730,000 in 2016) came from the state, 30 percent from the federal government and 40 percent from the private Margaret A. Cargill and Rasmuson foundations. The ASCA awarded a little more than $1.3 million in grants to nonprofits in 2016, of which $273,000 (20 percent) came from the state.

“We’re getting a really good return on that investment,” she said.

Noble-Pelant is herself an artist (she draws), but said she hasn’t had much time to focus on her own work while with the ASCA.

That doesn’t bother her in the least.

“I always say my creative work is supporting the work of other creative people.”

For more information about the ASCA, including links to grant information and applications, visit https://education.alaska.gov/aksca/

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