The Governor's Arts and Humanities Awards is an annual partnership between the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, and the Office of the Governor to recognize and honor noteworthy contributions to the arts and humanities in Alaska.
Each year, these partners select awardees in several distinct categories, based on nominations submitted by the public.
Congratulations to the 2023 awardees for their achievements in the Arts and Humanities!
John Damberg - Individual Artist
John Damberg, a talented jazz musician, educator, and founder of the nonprofit organization Alaska Jazz Workshop, has been a vital part of the Alaskan music scene for over 20 years. With his impressive academic credentials and extensive performance experience, John has become a master percussionist, vibraphonist, marimbist, and composer. He has composed music for various projects, including movie soundtracks and children's educational videos, and his work has been featured on several CD releases and Alaska Public Radio stations.
Through the Alaska Jazz Workshop, John has inspired over 3,000 aspiring local musicians to become competent instrumentalists, taken student jazz ensembles on field trips to Cuba and New Orleans, and collaborated with various artists and organizations to promote jazz education and performance opportunities in Alaska. John's unwavering commitment to building community among jazz enthusiasts and his dedication to spreading the joy of jazz makes him a deserving recipient of the Individual Artist for The Alaska Governor's Arts and Humanities Awards.
Hope Studios at Hope Community Resources – Arts Business Leadership
Founded in 1968 by Nancy Stuart Johnson, Hope Studios is a community-based art studio operated by Hope Community Resources. It provides a welcoming space in Anchorage for Alaska artists, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to explore, create, and share their talents. Renowned for its vibrant, unconventional artwork, the studio fosters inclusive communities and empowers artists. Despite economic challenges, Hope Studios continues to be essential to Hope Community Resources' mission, impacting local businesses like Fashion Pact and creating stunning murals that celebrate diversity.
Participants in Hope Studios programs experience personal growth, pride, and a sense of belonging. Actively involved in the community, Hope Studios collaborates with schools, nursing homes, and local businesses on various projects. Their captivating artwork can be found across Alaska, making Hope Studios a gem in the Anchorage community and beyond, promoting hope and resilience through the arts.
Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone – Margaret Nick Cooke Award for Alaska Native Arts and Languages
Uaŋa Kunaq, Sitnasuaġmiutauruŋa. Kiŋikmiut ilutqa. Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone is from Nome, Alaska. She is Inupiaq from Wales, AK and Kiowa from Oklahoma. Kunaq is the proud mother of her four year old daughter Telele Iŋmaġana. She is a business owner, artist, teacher, traditional tattooist, and hide tanner. Kunaq works hard to encourage positive change within our communities and promotes healthy cultural identity. She is currently working for her Masters’ degree in Indigenous Studies focusing on Traditional Inupiaq Tattooing and Ceremony. Kunaq recently became the director of the Katirvik Cultural Center in Nome where she will continue to focus on revitalizing the Indigenous languages of the region, cultural skills and traditions. Kunaq serves on several boards including Nome School Board, World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO) Board of Governors, Native Movement Advisory Board, and Inuusiq Inc. Kunaq is proud to help start the first Inupiaq Immersion program in Nome for Kindergarten and First grade students and will soon work to open a Immersion Tribal School in Nome.
Christa Bruce – Arts Education Leadership
Christa Bruce moved to Alaska with her husband and dog in 1969, leaving Colorado behind. Her priority items for the journey included camping gear, law books for her husband, and a sewing machine. Her family wished they could have made the trip too. Christa began her career teaching music, English, Japanese, computers, debate, Academic Decathlon, drama, and coaching teachers in St. Lawrence Island. After retiring from teaching, she worked for various non-profit organizations, in the art world, and for several local and statewide boards, including the US Department of Education. Christa holds four Master's Degrees* and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
She studied post-Soviet democracies in Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic, concertized as a pianist in China, and studied in the UK at Lincoln College, Oxford, with support from the Annenberg Foundation. Christa and her family initiated Ketchikan's teacher exchange program with Kanayama, Japan, which is still going strong 36 years later.
Christa is a fearless adventurer and a connector who loves to run her skiff, harvest spruce tips, gut fish for smoking, host Rotary students, hatch ideas, coach boys' running teams, and wash dishes with the Tei Kwei Dee elders in her adopted Tlingit community. She firmly believes that bringing people together will create a better tomorrow.
Edward K. Thomas - Distinguished Service to the Humanities in Community
Dr. Edward K. Thomas is the President Emeritus of the Tlingit Haida Central Council, a tribe of more than 33,000 enrolled tribal citizens; he was President of the tribe for over 27 years. Ed graduated from Craig High School, earned his Associates in Science Degree from Sheldon Jackson College, his Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, and his Master’s in Education Administration from Penn State.
Ed was a commercial fisherman for more than 25 years; he began commercial fishing at the age of 13 and skippered 5 different salmon seine boat over 12 years. He has worked as a junior high school teacher and boy’s junior high basketball coach in Klawock; as a high school counselor and boy’s junior high basketball coach in Craig; as the Indian Studies student counselor for the Sitka School District in Sitka; and as Executive Director of the Indian Education Program in Ketchikan. He was President and Executive Director of the Ketchikan Indian Community, was elected to the Sealaska Corporation Board of Directors, and was Chairman of the Sealaska Timber Corporation Board.
Ed chaired the Human Resources Committee of the Alaska Federation of Natives and delivered the AFN Convention Keynote Address in 1995. He was on the White House Advisory Council for Tribal Colleges and Universities, and on the National Advisory Council on Indian Education. Ed has met with six United States Presidents: Ford, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, GW Bush, and Obama. He was one of 5 United States tribal leaders to meet twice with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
Ayaprun Loddie Jones - Distinguished Service to the Humanities in Education
Ayaprun Ledwina (Loddie) Jones was born to Canaar (Teddy) and Arnaucuaq (Maryann) Sundown on October 2, 1947 in Scammon Bay, Alaska. She is the 6th daughter out of 12, with three brothers.
Ayaprun attended the BIA school in Scammon Bay until grade 7, and then went on to a parochial school at St. Marys, where she was promoted from 8th grade in '63 and graduated from high school in '67. She then got her BA in Elementary Education in 1972 from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. From August 1972 to May 1990, Ayaprun taught Kindergarten at Kilbuck School. She taught Yup’ik as a second language at the same school from '90 to '95, and taught as a Kindergarten teacher in a Yup’ik Immersion charter school in Bethel until her retirement in May 2022. Currently, she is a parttime cultural specialist in the same school.
Ayaprun married her late husband, Tan’gaucuaq John Jones, on February 3, 1973. They raised three daughters: Jonella Jones, Sephora Lestenkoff, and Heidi Olson. They also have a son, Jerrol Jones, and have raised a grandson, Harold, and two granddaughters, Tedi Jones and Maiyahna Olson. They have 7 granddaughters, 12 grandsons and 4 great grand children.
Frances Ann "Fran" Ulmer - Distinguished Service to the Humanities in Leadership
Fran Ulmer served as an elected official from 1983 to 2002, as Mayor of Juneau, as a state representative, and as Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. Previously, she had worked as legal counsel to the Alaska Legislature, as a legislative assistant to Governor Jay Hammond, and as Director of Policy Development and Planning. From 2004-2011, Fran worked at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy and as Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, and later as UAA Chancellor. She was appointed Chair of the US Arctic Research Commission by President Obama in 2011, serving until 2020, and also served as Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy at the State Department from 2014-2017. In 2018, she was a visiting professor at Stanford University and currently is a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center.
Fran has served on numerous state and national boards, including the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, the National Parks Conservation Association Board, the Global Board of the Nature Conservancy, as the first Chair of the Alaska Coastal Policy Council, and as co-chair of the Aspen Institute's Commission on Arctic Climate Change, among others.
Fran is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School. She married the late Bill Council, is the mother of Louis Ulmer and Amelia Council, and grandmother of Evie and Lucas.
Marie "Pipiyaq" Paul - Lifetime Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities
Marie Paul, born on May 11, 1961, in Bethel, Alaska, was a valued member of the Bristol Bay community. Her tireless dedication to uplifting her people and preserving her Yup’ik heritage left an indelible mark on those who knew her.
Marie spent most of her formative years in Togiak, AK, where she married her husband Herman in 1990 and raised their five children. Over the years, Marie contributed significantly to the Bristol Bay Community in a variety of roles. Marie served on the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation (BBNCEF) Board for more than 24 years and became its President in December 2007. Additionally, Marie was an active member of the BBNC Board of Directors since 2006. Marie was also involved locally and served on the Traditional Village of Togiak and the Southwest Region School District School Board. Her most recent role was as the Togiak Learning Center Coordinator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Bristol Bay Campus.
Marie passed away unexpectedly on December 18, 2022. Her unwavering commitment to the betterment of Bristol Bay and her deep love for its people and traditions will continue to inspire future generations.
You can view a short video about Marie below, created by Mark Titus.
Each year, an Alaskan artist is commissioned to create a series of unique awards to present to the awardees. The 2023 awards will be created by Mark Tetpon.
Click on the buttons below to learn more about past awardees. Click here to see a full list of all awardees, 1968-2023.