Reflections on Native American Cultural Contributions in 2022
Native-led organizations and Native American artists are receiving a well-deserved increase in public attention, recognition, and support. Mainstream arts organizations and funders are at long last offering significantly more opportunities for Native arts to be seen and heard, and I’m encouraged to see some of the major foundations and the federal cultural agencies demonstrate their leadership in support of Native arts and cultures. As 2022 draws to a close, it’s the perfect moment to reflect on the state of Indigenous arts and culture and to celebrate numerous successes for Native American artists and cultural organizations. We are at a crossroads in America, with fierce divides in our politics and a heated national discourse. May both the accomplishments and the struggles of Native American creative workers and leaders remind us of the values of resiliency, wisdom, tenacity, stamina, patience—and how important the arts and culture are to our collective future.
Connecting the Dots: Advancing Gender Equity in the Arts through Research, Policy, and Change
New data from the National Endowment for the Arts, summarized in the research brief “Artists in the Workforce: Selected Demographic Characteristics Prior to COVID‐19,” paints a fuller picture of why women in the dance industry, particularly women of color, were particularly devastated by the pandemic. When combined with Dance Data Project®’s forthcoming Gender Equity Index—which was born out of a necessity to center policies and initiatives that keep and advance women in the arts—these findings call for more intentional support towards women in the dance industry and the performing arts overall. While men have recouped labor force losses since February 2020, there are one million fewer women in the general labor force as of January 2022. The sharp contrast between the number of men and women in the labor force likely reflects uneven caregiving responsibilities men and women have taken on during the pandemic, and caretaking duties not met with due support from employers or the government have been a longstanding barrier to career advancement and retention for women in the arts. To advance equity in the arts, we must acknowledge that the workforce is overwhelmingly female and support policies that recognize women as primary caretakers in order to prevent a further “she-cession” from the arts workforce.
Building a Foundation for Native Arts & Culture Councils
Native Arts & Culture Councils, a two-year pilot project funded by the Ford Foundation, is designed to help Native communities develop Arts and Culture Councils similar to existing local arts agencies across the United States. In the initial stages of this initiative, this group of tribal-led, community-based organizations is making important contributions to our national cultural discourse and paving the way for broader participation by other tribes. The Native cultural field has changed dramatically in the last thirty or so years. There is broader acceptance that there should be no “speaking about us without us,” and Native leaders, artists, and cultural organizations want their cultural perspectives recognized, documented, understood, and celebrated. Community-anchored and community-informed work includes a variety of approaches: Some of the tribal organizations are committed to advancing tourism to strengthen the local economy; others focus on supporting local artists (including artist directories, organizing local art markets, and commissioning public art projects); still others seek to develop programmatic capacities related to public events, classes and workshops, film screenings, youth projects, ceremonial activities, and heritage preservation and oral history projects. There is value in having input from people living in tribal communities and having their perspective on how best to develop local cultural assets that suit their community’s needs.
Recognizing the Value of the Arts in Oxford, Mississippi
Only a few years ago, the business community in Oxford skewed heavily toward traditional notions of economic growth and profitability, which inevitably bred a bias toward large manufacturing businesses, insurance, finance, and healthcare. A smaller-scale entrepreneur community, particularly more creative and artistic entrepreneurs, was not cultivated to the degree it should have been. This community didn’t attract attention because it wasn’t necessarily seen as vital to the health of the local economy. In 2015, Oxford’s local arts agency, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (YAC), recognized this was an issue for the community. They saw that a major part of the local economy—the arts sector—was not being taken seriously as an economic driver. The numbers, they found, were on their side, demonstrating that the arts made up more than a negligible portion of the local economy. The YAC began strategizing with the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce on how they could best capitalize on the arts ecosystem in town, which was finding a way to survive even without the necessary value placed on it. Together they began looking for ways to integrate the separate arts and business communities such that their complementary skill-sets and capacities could meet their mutual goals and needs.
Climate Change Impact: New Mexico with Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández
Climate change is chipping away at our cultural heritage. A place to live, eat, and watch the next generation grow, that’s not something we want to lose. We want to preserve the cultural heritage of our beautiful state, and that includes protecting our air, land, and water for generations to come. When you begin to lose your land, you begin to lose a piece of yourself. New Mexicans are strong. We take an enormous amount of pride in living in this state. You can see that in the different regions and in our communities, no matter what district you visit. There are dozens of murals spread out across our neighborhoods. You may pass a giant, majestic roadrunner with carefully painted blue and yellow feathers on the way to the grocery store, or a wall that depicts Zuni dancers and the pueblos painted in yellows. There are so many representations of our beautiful landscapes as well. Through them all, our devotion to the region is palpable. Our diverse culture, intimately tied to the well-being of the environment, is what frames conversations on climate change in our community. Our ranchers and farmers are an important part of New Mexican culture; they feed us and contribute greatly to our economy. They are key voices at the table when thinking of solutions. New Mexico is getting hotter. Our droughts and wildfire seasons are getting longer, and we are seeing the effects of climate change become increasingly more damaging. We know that if our families want to continue to call this beautiful place home, we have an obligation to address these issues.
Climate Change Impact: Louisiana with Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser
Louisiana is on the forefront of climate change in the United States. The frequency and intensity of storms are increasing. Coastal land loss is increasing. More inland, cycles of drought and extreme precipitation is increasing. For every temperature degree warmer, we are seeing 7% more water falling from the sky. As a result, we are seeing more flooding. The Louisiana Folklore Society began the Bayou Culture Collaborative (BCC) in 2018 to provide a means to connect those interested in the human dimension, especially the impact of climate change on our culture. Louisiana participates in in SouthArts disaster preparedness programs and also has Creative Relief, a statewide system to respond to disasters. Each regional arts council has a means to receive donations to support arts organizations and artists. Within the Division of the Arts grants department, conversations have begun around the topic of requiring some of the larger (according to budgets) arts organizations to have disaster plans in place as a requirement for eligibility. This may take a few grant cycles to implement. Arts councils have also provided arts activities at evacuation sites. Dialogues with the Governor’s Office are beginning concerning how to help artists and arts organizations that have to relocate and how to help communities relocate together in order to support community connections and culture.
Climate Change Impact: Michigan with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell
A love for the arts instills important values within the community, including an appreciation of the beauty and importance of nature. Michigan is home to some of the most breathtaking waterways, coastlines, and forests, and many artists take inspiration from these natural treasures. Protecting these valuable and life-sustaining resources is critical in preserving Michigan’s vibrant art and cultural heritage. We had an art exhibit in Ypsilanti—Interdependence at the Riverside Arts Center—that demonstrated the connectedness of every person, animal, and living creature on our planet. The Huron River Watershed Council has also partnered with arts organizations like the Michigan Theatre to screen films including “An Inconvenient Sequel,” and host conversations on how we can engage at a community level to address these challenges. Communities across the nation are experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand, and Southeast Michigan is no exception. During Dearborn’s historic flooding in summer 2021, I heard from artists with flooded basements who incurred thousands of dollars of losses, not to mention the heartbreak seeing the damage to their life’s work.
A new “Warrior’s Circle of Honor” at the National Native American Veterans Memorial
Designed by Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), the National Native American Veterans Memorial is located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall and was commissioned by Congress to give all Americans and our international visitors the opportunity to learn more about the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States. As a tribute to Native heroes, this work of public art recognizes, for the first time on a national scale, the distinguished service of American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian veterans in every branch of the U.S. military. Given that Native Americans have a long history of service dating back to the Revolutionary War, and also serve at the highest per capita level of participation of any demographic, it is especially appropriate (and it’s about time!) for Native American veterans to be honored with this memorial. Public art in the 21st century is playing a key role in creating meaningful places for gathering and contemplation. Many memorials created in the not-so-distant past are figurative statues of heroic and historical figures. By contrast, both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National Native Americans Veterans Memorial are abstract works that are meditative in tone and rich in symbolism. The National Native American Veterans Memorial also serves as a place of reverence and honor, a commemoration of people who served with honor, and a site of celebration.
Colorado Representative Leslie Herod Advocates for the Arts in General Assembly
Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), presented Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod with the 2021 Public Leadership in the Arts Award for her work in advancing arts and culture, especially during the pandemic to help artists and arts organizations survive. As Chair of the Colorado House Appropriations Committee, she has used her influence to ensure that arts and culture are not only seen as economic engines but are treated with the respect they deserve. Rep. Herod is fond of comparing the economic impact of the state’s arts and culture sector to its ski industry. Aware that everyone in Colorado knows that the ski industry is huge in the state—supporting jobs and bringing in tax revenue—she notes that the ski industry is $4.8 billion dollars, while arts and culture is a $14.4 billion dollar industry, generating about three times more than the ski industry. Rep. Herod believes that the arts bring diverse groups of people together to inspire connections, create change, and support economic vibrancy. She believes that the shortest distance between people are their stories, and the arts open doors to conversations that define us as a community and address complex issues to create greater understanding.
Climate Change Impact: Minnesota with Commissioner Toni Carter
Minnesota, known for its cold weather, snow, and ice, is now rapidly warming—particularly during winter months. It is also becoming much wetter. Twin Cities winter traditions, including our Saint Paul Winter Festival and Minneapolis Aquatennial events—tooled and refined over time as cold weather events—must accommodate weather that melts traditional ice sculptures and castles, and often makes snow largely unavailable for hosting sled and sleigh creations or for snow scavenger hunts—all a part of our winter cultural expectations. Accustomed to festivals, parades, Pow Wows, and such activities over summer months, people in our communities are finding more frequent rain disruptions or cancellations—and more sweltering days, dangerous particularly to elderly artists and observers. Both the more frequent rain and more severe heat episodes are also a challenge for outdoor tapestry maintenance and longevity. With summer temperatures over the last two years more regularly registering over 90 degrees Fahrenheit the amount of time artists can spend outdoors installing or creating artwork is becoming more limited. And paradoxically, with more tolerable (warmer) winter weather, some attractive outdoor spaces for artmaking are now occupied by people in tent encampments, which rose in number during the pandemic.
Cooperative Economics: Balancing (in)equitable advocacy in Black art communities
Whether or not you practice Kwanzaa, the celebration's Seven Principles apply to all areas of life, including the arts, industry and economics, healthcare, and education. These actions can look like developing community-wide initiatives, such as those that center on art; creating community-led and focused direct impact service organizations; establishing businesses; educational and cultural events; and other enterprises that celebrate and center sustainable economic growth for and within the Black Diaspora. Like the art we create—be it murals during protests, artist community services rebuilding after a natural disaster, micro-grants for entrepreneurship, or any of the multiple ways creatives show up and produce work—Ujamaa, or Cooperative Economics, teaches us that this fundamental drive should grow out of the communal concept that it is for the betterment of our communities. Nobody should be under- or misrepresented, exploited, or oppressed; no one person, business, corporation, nonprofit, or organization holds the power to an unequal distribution of wealth, opportunity, recognition, or expression. As a practice within and among Diasporic populations, this principle asks us to understand that when we share our talents for growth and continued development of our environments, we establish the blueprint for how we survive and thrive.