Located in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center preserves the natural, cultural, and social history of interior Alaska through a variety of interactive exhibits and educational programming. The vision for the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center dates back to 1998 and is the nexus of three major cultural organizations in the Fairbanks area.
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Throughout the 1990s, the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center outgrew their existing facilities and began talks to create a new shared facility for the means of tourism promotion and interior Alaskan visitor information. Plans for a cultural center were also being explored by the Tanana Chiefs Conference, as a means of preserving traditional Athabascan language, knowledge, and elder teachings. An initiative spearheaded by Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens proposed the idea of the three organizations joining together to create a unified facility.
Following discussions between the organization, the new facility was envisioned as a dedication to prominent 20th century business and civic leader Morris Thompson, a Koyukon Athabascan who served as commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and CEO of Doyon Limited, an Alaska Native Corporation. Throughout his life and service, Thompson was known as a prominent cultural ambassador between Native and non-Native communities in Alaska and across the United States until his death in 2000. The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center was opened to the public in September of 2009.
The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is located in downtown Fairbanks, along the banks of the Chena River. As a visitor center for the interior Alaska area, the Center provides tourist information and maps related to local attractions and nature preserve areas. The Center is open seven days a week, excluding major national holidays, and serves as the headquarters for the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, the Tanana Chiefs Cultural Program, the Denakkanaaga Alaska Native Elders’ Organization, and the Alaska Geographic Store.
Opened in September 2009, the Center’s How We Live: The People and the Land exhibit celebrates the natural and cultural history of interior Alaska, using dioramas and interactive artifact exhibits to illustrate the history of area indigenous groups. Life-sized dioramas depict the changing seasons of Alaskan weather, featuring replicas of the area’s famous Northern Lights and a reconstruction of of the Nuchalawoyya area at the intersection of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers. An Elder’s Hall within the exhibit informs visitors about historic and contemporary aspects of Athabascan culture, including artwork and tool crafting. The exhibit was designed by Andre and Associates, emphasizing themes developed through a collaborative process with a number of interior Alaskan communities and social groups.
An Antler Arch is showcased on the visitor center’s grounds, crafted by local artist Sandy Jamieson. Constructed from more than 100 caribou and moose antlers collected throughout Alaska’s interior, the arch stands as a monument to personal hunting stories from diverse groups across the region. The monument was assembled through the assistance of Wright Air Service, Everts Air Cargo, and the Downtown Association of Fairbanks, and is monitored 365 days a year by a live webcam feed.
Ongoing Programming and Events
A variety of daily cultural programming is presented at the Center, including film showings related to Alaskan historical, natural, and cultural topics, shown seven days a week at the Center’s high-definition theater. 100 seats are offered within the theater, with showings beginning on the hour daily. Film schedules are subject to change and are available for inquiry by contacting the Center directly.
Regular cultural programming is presented by the Center’s cultural groups, including performances by Alaska Native youth dancers and traditional music and storytelling presentations by Athabascan performers. First Friday cultural events offer receptions for gallery openings of works by interior Alaskan artists and workshops related to traditional crafting practices. Other cultural programming includes family portrait opportunities in traditional Athabascan attire, allowing visitors to interact with Native garment artifact holdings, and maker events with Alaska Native artists.
Educational programming is offered in conjunction with the National Park Service, including I SPY scavenger hunt programming offering worksheet materials to encourage young visitors to identify a number of animal and bird species throughout the Center’s exhibits. Customized educational programming for K-12 students is offered by the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, providing field trip opportunities of the Center led by National Park rangers. Field trips include exhibit exploration and a film showing at the Center’s theater and may be scheduled by contacting the Center’s educational staff via phone or email.
101 Dunkel St, Fairbanks, AK 99701, Phone: 907-459-3700