The Alaska State Museum was established on June 6, 1900, when an Act of Congress created the Historical Library and Museum for the District of Alaska. The purpose of the Museum was to collect, preserve and exhibit objects from the territory. Although the collection of artifacts and volumes grew rapidly, a permanent place to house and display materials was not found for 20 years. Initially, the collection was originally stored wherever space could be found, with no provision made for public access. In 1920, the collection of the Alaska Historical Museum was made available to the public in the Arctic Brotherhood Building in Juneau. In 1923, the Territory assumed responsibility for Museum operations and the Museum continued to acquire and display important historical objects, and also developed research, tour guide programs, and educational activities. By the mid-1940s, the collection had outgrown its space and the Museum could no longer adequately store and display its materials.
Finally, in 1967, in honor of the centennial of the purchase of Alaska from Russia, the citizens of Juneau implemented a one percent sales tax to help fund the building of the current museum facility. Juneau subsequently turned over ownership and governance of the Museum to the State of Alaska. Since that time, the Museum's collections have grown from 5,500 to 27,000 objects. The Alaska State Museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1975 and was re-accredited in 1987, and again in 2001.
Sheldon Jackson Museum was founded in 1888 to house an exceptional collection of Alaska Native ethnographic material, most of which had been gathered by Presbyterian missionary and General Agent of Education for Alaska, the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson. In 1985, the state purchased the Sheldon Jackson Museum and now administers its collection of 6,000 objects. In 1972, the Museum's unique building -- the first concrete structure built in Alaska -- was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Until it was sold to the state, the Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka operated this facility.
Statement of Purpose
The Alaska State Museums' statement of purpose is delineated in Alaska State Statute 14.57.010, revised and adopted in 1974.
- to acquire artifacts, natural history specimens, art objects, and other items that pertain to the human and natural history of Alaska by purchase and by gift;
- to identify, catalog, preserve and display the museums' acquisitions; to acquire and catalog Alaskan photographs and maintain a card catalog of this collection;
- to accept endowments, grants and gifts;
- to collect and maintain books, periodicals, pamphlets and other materials pertinent to museum administration, techniques and collections;
- to assist and advise in the development of local museums;
- to collect and keep current information concerning museum activities throughout the state;
- to coordinate the museum activities of the state with those of other agencies; to keep the museum open at reasonable hours for the convenience of visitors;
- to provide museum services and administer state and other grants-in-aid to museums in the state to supplement and improve their services.
The Alaska State Museums (a state educational agency comprised of the Alaska State Museum and the Sheldon Jackson Museum) identify, collect, preserve and exhibit Alaska's material and natural history and provide public access to services and collections of the Museums. The Alaska State Museums interpret and disseminate knowledge of the history of the state, its people, and its resources, and support others in these efforts. The Museums also assist and advise in the growth, development, and excellence of other museums within Alaska.
Sheldon Jackson Museum
The Reverend Dr. Sheldon Jackson, in two separate items of correspondence, stated his philosophy for founding the museum which bears his name:
"...to provide and have on hand for study by the students the best specimens of the old work of their ancestors" (1887); "... otherwise, in a few years there would be nothing left to show the coming generations of Natives how their fathers lived." (1893). Although his references were to the students of the school he founded in Sitka (now Sheldon Jackson College), his intent has expanded to mean "student" in its broadest terms.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum and its collection were purchased by the State of Alaska to inspire human thought and artistic endeavor, to stimulate ethnographic research and to foster an awareness of, and an appreciation for, the enriching qualities of a multi-cultural existence.