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Longtime museum director to retire in November

Submitted by Kerynn Fisher
Phone: 907-474-6941

03/21/08

Photo caption below.
Photo by Kerynn Fisher
Longtime University of Alaska Museum of the North director Aldona Jonaitis has announced that she will retire in November.

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Fairbanks, Alaska-After 15 years as director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, Aldona Jonaitis plans to retire in November.

Jonaitis' tenure at the museum has been marked by dramatic growth, both in facilities and in programs.

"I knew in 1993 that the University of Alaska Museum of the North was one of the finest museums of its kind: a medium-sized research and teaching institution," said Jonaitis. "Things have only gotten better. Now that the expansion is complete and fully operational, I think it's time for someone else to lead the museum in the next chapter of its history."

When she was hired, Jonaitis was given the directive "expand the museum." From the capital campaign for the $48 million expansion to programming for the new wing, the expansion was her major focus. She was also one of the strongest advocates for the building's signature architecture. The new wing, which opened in 2005, continues to draw national and international attention to the university and to Fairbanks. Jonaitis also developed the concept for the new art gallery and served as its curator. By organizing the gallery thematically to give visitors an overview of the spectrum of Alaska art, insight into the artistic process and interpretation by community members rather than art historians, she hopes the gallery makes art more accessible to visitors of all backgrounds.

"The opening of the new wing and the public response have been incredibly fulfilling, both on a personal level and on a professional one," said Jonaitis.

Under Jonaitis' leadership, the museum's education programs have expanded and exhibition space has doubled. New facilities, like a lab to study ancient DNA, state-of-the-art research labs and expanded collections storage, have significantly expanded the museum's research capabilities. The museum serves as a model for web accessibility in museums, both in education programs and in the research collections. The museum's professional staff grew in the last 15 years, with new curatorial positions in entomology and ichthyology; collection manager positions for several of the research departments; and staff positions in development, education, public relations and visitor services.

While the museum's overall budget has more than doubled under Jonaitis' tenure, the growth comes almost entirely from research grants, increased visitor revenue and private donations. State funding for the museum has remained relatively constant, but accounts for only 22 percent of the museum's operations budget today, compared to 42 percent in 1993.

"I see hiring Aldona as the museum director as one of the best things I did at UAF," says former UAF provost Paul Reichardt, who served as acting director of the museum in the early 1990s. "She has transformed the museum and her work will have a long-lasting impact."

In addition to serving as museum director, Jonaitis is professor of anthropology in UAF's College of Liberal Arts and a scholar of Northwest Coast native art, with seven books to her credit. Prior to taking the helm at the museum, Jonaitis served as vice president for public programs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City; vice provost for undergraduate studies at the State University of New York, Stony Brook; adjunct professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University; and professor of art at SUNY-Stony Brook. Jonaitis received her bachelor's degree from SUNY-Stony Brook and her doctorate in art history and archaeology from Columbia University.

Jonaitis plans to remain in Fairbanks when she retires, starting up a dessert catering business and working as a museum consultant. A national search for her replacement is underway.

CONTACT: Kerynn Fisher, University of Alaska Museum of the North communications coordinator, at 907-474-6941 or 907-378-2559 or via e-mail at k.fisher@uaf.edu.