Lack of volunteers forces Alaskaland museum to close

Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The African-American Community Museum at Alaskaland won't be open this summer because the museum has too few volunteers.

The museum's operators -- members of the Fairbanks Black Chamber of Commerce -- could not keep the doors to the museum open the prescribed number of hours. The museum's rental contract with Alaskaland, therefore, won't be renewed.

The rule at Alaskaland is that shops must be open all hours between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

''Consistency is important with Alaskaland,'' said Borough North Star Borough Mayor Rhonda Boyles. ''If you've got tourists going there, what does it say if half the shops are closed at 7 at night?''

The chamber is looking for a new home for the small museum.

The museum opened last June in a tiny brown cabin with red trim in the Alaskaland shopping district called Gold Rush Town. Its artifacts consisted mainly of portraits of current black residents and a historic timeline of black Alaskans and their accomplishments. Some shelves were bare and the museum had more souvenirs for sale than it had historic things to see, but operators said they hoped it would grow.

''African-Americans have been here a long time,'' said chamber member Dorothy Bradshaw, who runs the Snack Shack downtown. ''If we don't tell their story, I don't think it's going to be told.''

The museum had a dual purpose: To educate people about black history in Alaska and to be a training ground for young blacks wanting to start a business or enter the work force. It hoped to attract young people looking for job skills to be the volunteers.

The black chamber has pretty much vacated the Alaskaland cabin. It is focusing on re-establishing the museum someplace else, such as in a back room of Bradshaw's Snack Shop or at the Southside Community Center.

But at either of the alternate places, the museum may not see the tourist foot traffic it saw at Alaskaland.

''I still feel there should be a presence of African-Americans and other minorities at Alaskaland,'' Bradshaw said.

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