Julie Decker, PhD, is the Director/CEO of the Anchorage Museum in Alaska, which is a leading center for scholarship, engagement, and investigation of Alaska and the North.
Tired Earth: An Interview with Julie Decker, Director/CEO of the Anchorage Museum

This interview was conducted by Selva Ozelli


What was the idea/inspiration behind creating the Anchorage Museum which resides in the North that is pivotal to the world — not a frontier, but a horizon and at the edge of the Arctic, for sparking ideas, active investigation and dialogue?

The Anchorage Museum was established in 1968. The Museum sits on the traditional homeland of the Eklutna Dena'ina. The museum is committed to recognizing and honoring the land, culture and language of the Dena'ina people. We recognize and respect the continuing connection, by Alaska Native people and all Indigenous people, to the land, waters and communities. Our mission is to be a museum for people, place, planet, and potential, in service of a sustainable and equitable North, with creativity and imagination for what is possible. We envision the Northern region as a place of ideas and transformation, narratives and perspectives, resilient and relevant communities, responsive to a rapidly changing world toward a better future for all.

Tell us about Museum's initiatives concerning education -- such as the Journal and online courses.

We offer in-person and virtual learning opportunities. In 2021-2022, a major education focus is the delivery of online learning materials. Since March of 2020, the museum has grown its online resources to more than 130 digital resources, and local school districts have requested curriculum ranging from culturally responsive arts to physical education. Even as students come back to physical classrooms, most educational theorists agree some form of digital learning will continue to be central to all levels of education. Analytics demonstrate high usage of the hub, and a recent survey of educators demonstrates high engagement and need. We also work on sound-based science and arts learning and a citizen science project in soundscape ecology, recording at five sites throughout the state. As the resource of audio data builds, and as an online portal for that data is built, the Museum seeks to provide access through a searchable library of sound and sound related curriculum along with appropriate data storage. Plans for installation of sound throughout the museum are underway, including commissions and artist driven projects which engage with scientific sound data.  We also provide professional development opportunities for educators.

We publish a podcast and a journal (print and online) titled Chatter Marks. The title Chatter Marks is inspired by a geological phenomenon—chatter marks are series of often crescent-shaped gouges chipped out of the bedrock as a glacier drags rock fragments underneath it. Present since the last ice age, most of the world's glaciers are now shrinking or disappearing altogether as the climate gets warmer. As they mark the passage of deep time, our landscapes are also indicators of our tomorrow. It is a way to explore radically new modes of thinking and responding to our collective futures. In assembling the issues of this journal, we seek to gather a rich community of thinkers, creative practitioners, and change makers to focus on vision.

This year, The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Science and Technology (CIMUSET) which is a scientific committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) during its 48th #CIMUSET Annual Conference: "Museums & Environmental Concerns, New Insights" -7-11 November 2021, will address our planet's environmental concerns and how Science and Technology museums can approach and present this important issue via education and exhibitions. When did the Museum get involved in climate change and plastic pollution related issues and what programs has it instituted?

We have addressed climate change issues through the Museum for a decade, emphasizing the impact of climate change on Indigenous communities as well as Indigenous relationships with land and Indigenous knowledge that should be at the center of conversations around climate change and climate justice. We have information about climate change as part of our science Discovery Center, curriculum, exhibitions and our work with artists.  We have a facility across the street from the Museum called SEED Lab, which focuses on sustainable communities and hosts public art projects, artist residencies, podcasts, programs and conversations around climate change. We also plan to institute a climate curator position at the Museum. In 2014, we co-organized an exhibition (and publication) titled GYRE: The Plastic Ocean and this exhibition has traveled to multiple venues throughout the country.

In the last few decades, the degradation of our environment with increased global warming, melting of the arctic, pollution, increased carbon footprint, ozone layer depletion, natural resource depletion, loss of endangered species, urban sprawl has gone up at an alarming rate.
The worldwide covid-19 pandemic has also added to plastic pollution stemming from single use plastic equipment that are dumped into our world's wetlands, oceans and landfills. Does the Museum have any pandemic related plastic pollution initiatives?

We are doing a full energy audit of our facility and operations and looking at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our museums and all museums as it relates to artwork conservation requirements, HVAC systems and exhibition practices. We also host a series of repair and reuse workshops, working with artists and community partners to share skills and knowledge related to reducing waste and consumption and extending the life of objects.

What partnerships does the Museum have? Does it collaborate with the UN, America All In?

We work with international groups such as FORMS, #myclimateobject, the Museum for the United Nations, We Are Museums, and others on climate change and are collaborating on multiple forums related to COP26 and other comvenings around climate.

How can people reach your Museum's exhibitions? Do you have digital reach?

We do have digital reach. www.anchoragemuseum.org. Also soon through the Bloomberg Connects app.


The best of Tired Earth delivered to your inbox

Sign up for more inspiring photos, stories, and special offers from Tired Earth