FAIRBANKS — The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is inching closer to completion with about $980,000 left to raise as it puts the finishing touches on an intricate museum depicting Interior Alaska’s lifestyles.
The partially complete exhibits have been open to the public since September. The gallery aims to represent elements as diverse as Native culture, dog mushing, the pipeline boom days, sports teams and popular activities.
On Thursday, the visitors center received a $10,000 donation from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547. Jay Quakenbush, IBEW’s assistant business manager, presented the gift.
IBEW business representative Karm Singh encouraged the donation after visiting the incomplete exhibits. A scene from a hillside near Tanana, replicated with several square feet of terrain and a mural, especially struck him.
“I knew exactly where this was (depicting) when I walked in here,” he said while looking at the mural. “It was really a jolt to see how good of a job had been done.”
Charlene Marth, niece of the famed Athabascan leader Morris Thompson, said the exhibits would have been up to her late uncle’s standards.
“The thing that always stood out about my uncle is that he wanted things to be excellent and world-class,” she said. “... It gives you goosebumps to see all the cultural aspects here. It is Interior Alaska.”
The center, a decade-long project, has cost more than $28 million. It has received $16.7 million from the federal government, $7.1 million from the state and $4.3 million from donors.
Project director Cindy Schumaker said the main additions yet to be made are tablets for informational displays on the walls and the final room.
She said the room, which will cost an estimated $391,000, will have exhibits designed to encourage visitors to try activities such as canoeing and dog mushing.
The panels are expected to cost nearly $70,000. The information now is displayed on paper hung by tacks and tape.
Even without the final improvements, Schumaker said, the displays are receiving enthusiastic approval in comment books around the center.
“I read the visitors’ comments every day,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing to do.”
The center has requested $500,000 from the state. The center aims to raise $100,000 from a community campaign.
With so many funding variables, there is no timetable for completion of the exhibits, Schumaker said.
If the center can meet its funding goal, it would pay off about $450,000 in loans. That would eliminate the center’s debt and leave only operating costs, Schumaker said, which could be covered by payments from its tenants: Tanana Chiefs Conference, Alaska Public Lands Information Center and the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Contact staff writer Joshua Armstrong at 459-7523.