Voting is underway in the Alaska Artistic License Plate competition, which is put on by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Alaskans can now rank their favorites among the six semifinal designs on the state council website.
The semifinal license plate designs were selected by a jury featuring local elected officials, artists and photographers, including Anita Laulainen of Palmer, the competition’s first winner in 2017.
Benjamin Brown has chaired the Alaska State Council on the Arts since 2007. Brown said the council modeled the contest after artistic license plate competitions in other states.
“Part of the whole beauty of the program is the visibility of the plate and seeing it and you know, the arts, and celebrating the arts on a moving vehicle,” Brown said.
The contest was created by the Legislature in 2016, and a new bill that passed last year allowed the council to collect $3 per artistic license plate sold to raise funds for the council. Brown said about 15,000 people have already voted this year, which is nearly as many as voted during the entire 2017 competition.
The contest winner will be selected using ranked choice voting, which will remain open until July 31. The winner will be announced at the Alaska State Fair on August 26, and receive a $1,000 prize. The other five semifinalists will receive $250 each.
The contest was meant to be held every four years after Laulainen won in 2017, but Brown said that a veto of council funding, the November 2018 earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the contest.
Among the semifinalists is Wasilla High School teacher Robin Lockwood. She said her digital media class worked on license plate designs, and her students encouraged her to submit her own.
“I am not an artist by trade and still have a lot of — as I saw the artists who you know, are my idols and people who I have their artwork up in my house — I am in disbelief that I’m even in the same category as them for this competition,” Lockwood said.
Lockwood plans to use her winnings in her classroom, whether she is awarded the top prize or a semifinalist prize.
Lockwood said her favorite design was from Juneau artist Crystal Worl, who has created several murals throughout Alaska and designed the livery for an Alaska Airlines salmon-themed jet this year. Worl said that she used elements from one of her previous paintings for her plate design, inspired by practicing subsistence with her family.
“Alaskans are just really stoked to see local artists making art that’s very Alaskan, and I think it’s really neat that everyone can participate and look at all of them and put them in order of what they like,” Worl said. “So everyone’s getting the artwork on their car, and I think it’s just really exciting. Because Alaskans, you know how we are, we love our license plates.”
Semifinalists include artists of varying experience levels and backgrounds. Megan Brothers of Wasilla has no formal artistic background, but heard about the competition through her son’s elementary school teacher. Tehya McLeod of Fairbanks heard about the competition while taking a class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Both Sabrina Kessakorn and Amanda Warren of Anchorage incorporated fireweed into their plate design, but Kessakorn used Denali as a backdrop.
“I definitely feel like this competition has really brought the arts into the public view,” Kessakorn said.
The council also held a youth competition, and announced six winners from different age groups.
Currently, Alaskans can choose from 27 different license plate designs that are available through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The previous artistic design from Laulainen will no longer be issued, but the selected winner’s plate design will be available for Alaskans to put on their vehicles by the end of 2023.