People interested in participating encouraged to reach out

July 8, 2021

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is sponsoring a visiting scholar who is studying how Southeast Alaska Native artists sustain their ancient art practices in light of current economic, legal and environmental pressures.

Scholar Ben Bridges, who is pursuing dual Ph.D. in folklore and anthropology, will conduct preliminary research this summer in Juneau at the Walter Soboleff Building and interview artists, institutional leaders and art consumers.

Bridges is focusing on Southeast Alaska because of the infrastructure and support in recent years for the Alaska Native art scene and the long and rich history of creative cultural expressions by artists, who also must navigate the complex issues of subsistence rights and regulations.

“Coming from the fields of folklore and environmental anthropology, I was immediately drawn to the intersection of art and subsistence harvesting. Specifically, I wondered how the cultural, environmental, legal and economic dimensions of subsistence harvesting affected the artmaking processes for artists in the region,” Bridges said.

“Especially in the context of climate change, studying the strategies that people implement to navigate their relationships with the natural and legal world proves all the more pressing and important.”

His research likely will focus on one of the following topics: Sea otter skin sewing and hunting regulations, spruce root basketry and sustainability, cedar carving and logging limitations or Chilkat weaving and mountain goat removal.

“This type of research is important because it will give us more insight into the hurdles faced by Native artists who are perpetuating our ancient art practices. We need to better understand these kinds of impacts when policy decisions are made,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.

Bridges will be in Juneau in June and July and return to the region in the fall for about a year to continue fieldwork. Artists are encouraged to reach out to Bridges at benbridg@iu.edu if they’re interested in talking through some of these ideas. As is required of researchers who participate in SHI’s Visiting Scholars Program, Bridges will give a free lecture to share his findings as the research progresses and is finalized and provide a copy of his study to the SHI library.


Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116, amy.fletcher@sealaska.com; Ben Bridges, Visiting Scholar, benbridg@iu.edu.  

Caption: Photo of Ben Bridges by Lyndsey Brollini, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute.