Courtesy Sitka CVB
When Sitka, Alaska, was the capital of Russian America in the 1800s, it was known as the “Paris of the Pacific.” As the most populated town on North America’s west coast, Sitka was the hub of the fur trade, host to Russian royalty and a central point for arts and culture.
A deep-seated love of the arts continues today.
“The arts have a very strong place in our value system,” said Tonia Rioux, executive director of the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s really an arts-rich community.”
Thanks to a local arts organization and countless volunteers, the Sheldon Jackson College campus is once again part of Sitka’s arts community and is playing a part in the city’s meeting industry.
The college closed in 2007 due to accreditation and financial problems. Four years later, the board of trustees transferred ownership of the 130-year-old campus — 19 historic buildings on 19 acres in downtown Sitka — to Alaska Arts Southeast Inc., a nonprofit organization that has led efforts to repair and restore the buildings.
Each summer, the campus hosts the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Now, the campus is also available for meetings and conventions.
Among its refurbished facilities are a general session room for 250, six breakout rooms, Sitka’s largest commercial kitchen and 120 dormitory-style rooms for guest housing.
As repairs to the campus continue, Alaska Arts Southeast has begun holding events in the campus’ Allen Memorial Hall, which has a 250-person auditorium, three breakout rooms and a large reception foyer.
Other improvements will likely draw more arts groups, state government and environmental organizations to Sitka. The city’s largest meeting venue, Harrigan Centennial Hall, is slated for expansion in 2014, according to Rioux. The 18,000-square-foot center sits on the ocean downtown and offers several meeting rooms and an auditorium for up to 700 people.
The Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa-Kahidi — which roughly translates to “The Clan House for All the People of Sitka” — offers meeting space for about 300 people. The city of nearly 9,000 residents was settled by Tlingit natives, and its population is still about 30 percent Tlingit.
Built as a traditional Tlingit longhouse and located on the edge of the Tlingit village in downtown, the community house gives attendees “a really strong southeast Alaska flavor,” Rioux said.