All of Alaska’s license plates are getting at least a small redesign this year

By James Brooks

The Alaska Beacon

The Alaska State Council on the Arts is asking Alaskans to pick a replacement for Alaska’s aurora-themed license plate, one of three default options at the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles since 2017. The winner of the design competition will be announced August 26 at the Alaska State Fair.

Small changes are coming to the rest of Alaska’s license plates, too. The typeface on all plates was redesigned at the start of this year and the registration tabs — the stickers showing the year and month a plate expires — are larger. There’s also a barcode in the upper left for DMV use.

Those changes are comparatively small compared to the redesign that’s coming in July.

“This is going to be the cool and fabulous one,” said Ben Brown, chairman of the Arts Council, of the upcoming license plate.

Brown said Alaska has issued 180,000 of the aurora-themed license plates since they were introduced. That design will go away once the new Arts Council design is chosen.

“They are far and away the most popular license plates on the road,” he said of the existing design.

The state’s other two default designs — available with no surcharge — are a simple gold with blue lettering, and one that has an upright grizzly bear in the center.

State law allows the council to conduct a design competition every four years, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary closure of the council due to budget vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy delayed the second contest until this year.

The six semi-finalists, chosen by a local celebrity jury from among almost 100 entries, include two fireweed-themed designs, one featuring a sunset behind a mountainous coast, a dog team, and two whale-themed designs.

One of the whale-themed designs includes Southeast Alaska Native formline art by Juneau artist Crystal Worl, whose design work was recently featured on an Alaska Airlines jet.

The winner of the ranked-choice online vote will receive $1,000 and their design will be distributed and sold at DMV offices across the state until 2027. The other five semifinalists will receive $250 apiece.

Sen. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, was one of the judges on the panel that chose the semifinalists.

Other judges included Anchorage photographer Jovell, KTUU-TV weathercaster Jackie Purcell, Ketchikan artist Tim Troll, and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, an award-winning snowboarder.

“I think it’s a great way to showcase our local artists as well as bring attention to the arts council,” Merrick said of the program.

The original range of designs was “incredible,” she said, and included designs as far afield as a yeti drinking Starbucks.

Judges narrowed the options from about 100 to roughly 20, she said, then down to the final six.

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, and a fellow judge, noted that judges were looking for designs that are comprehensible on a fairly small piece of artwork, “something where you can both see the art and read the letters on the license plate.”

That can be a hard thing to do, Fields said.

Voting in the online competition runs through July 31.