The Rasmuson Foundation, an Anchorage fund that awards grants to Alaska artists, understands that art is not among the state’s well-known exports.
So when the foundation began to experiment with ways to promote that art outside of state lines, it turned to the virtual world of Second Life, where the results can be seen by all. A floating digital museum now displays works by the artists the fund has supported.
For Rasmuson, Second Life was the right tool for the time.
“There’s an incredibly strong arts community [in Second Life],” says Aliza Sherman a digital strategy consultant to Rasmuson. “It was the first foray into an online presence for a lot of artists.”
Now the foundation, which has awarded 230 grants to artists totaling $1,671,286 over eight years, has to decide whether to keep its virtual Guggenheim going.
On Wednesday morning, a group began to gather at this digital museum, as they have for the past four years, just at the time the real life Rasmuson was closing an annual ceremony where it announces the artists who have won grants.
Avatars, the digital likenesses that represent people in Second Life, greeted one another as they logged on and popped into virtual being.
“We usually get anywhere from 50 to 150 avatars that will be involved with the event,” says Cassandra Stalzer, communications manager at the Rasmuson Foundation.
People also come and go throughout the year, since the virtual gallery is always open and requires little maintenance. The foundation pays $3,000 to $5,000 a year to update the space with every new round of grants to artists, but little else.
“It hasn’t been hard to justify the continued experimentation there,” says Ms. Stalzer.
Still, the benefits may be waning. Second Life, which started in 2003—less than a year before Facebook and three years before Twitter—never reached the mass penetration of those two social-networking giants.
In addition, the experiment has lacked a continual presence, suffering from the yearly boom-and-bust award cycles, according to Ms. Stalzer. “Any time you enter a community, whether it’s virtual or real, you have to be authentically present. It takes more resources than we’ve applied to it.”
Going forward, the foundation will enter into a “period of evaluation and reflection” to decide its virtual future. Ms. Stalzer is unsure of where that will lead for the Second Life gallery.
Back at the digital gallery where, in true Alaskan style, it is now snowing, Ray Troll has taken the stage. A Ketchikan, Alaska, painter and winner of this year’s $25,000 Distinguished Artist grant from Rasmuson, Mr. Troll looks at the digital copies of his work now lining the museum walls. “It really is a dream gallery,” he remarks.
The work is an eclectic mix of murals depicting salmon. In the corner is a painting of a skull and two crossed salmon with the iconic “Spawn Till You Die” moniker that made Mr. Troll a hit with bikers in the late 1980s.
“I’m still introduced as Ray Troll, Spawn Till You Die guy. It’ll probably be on my tombstone,” says Mr. Troll. “Or maybe I’ll just live here forever in cyberspace.”