REZARTX Producing Space for Native Voices

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

Dynamic spoken word, the rhythm of rap, the captivating gentleness of acoustics. Artists for the REZILIENCE Indigenous Arts Experience brought a mixture of performing arts that ignited and energized their audience while sharing passion, hope, and healing at the family-friendly event.

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 2.15.27 PM.png

The inspiration for REZILIENCE Indigenous Arts Experience, also known as REZARTX, came three years ago.

“I started seeing how people enjoyed community events around Native arts in a way that was more interactive,” says The REZILIENCE Organization’s Executive Director Warren Montoya (Santa Ana Pueblo).

A 2017 School for Advanced Research (SAR) fellow and accomplished muralist, Warren has gained recognition at Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Indian Market, and has shown in several galleries. His business, REZONATE Art, produces events and public art projects. So for him, The REZILIENCE Organization and its annual REZARTX event is an extension of work he has been doing throughout his life.

The mission of The REZILIENCE Organization is to provide creative spaces and environments that promote imagining, learning, and practicing positive life-ways to encourage the well-being and achievements of Indigenous communities. REZILIENCE launched its first REZARTX event in 2016.

Once First Peoples Fund learned more about REZILIENCE, we invited them to apply for the Our Nations’ Spaces (ONS) grant program. Helping bring their annual REZARTX event to life in 2018 met the goals of the ONS grant to advance and foster support for Native arts.

For instance, over the past three years, REZILIENCE has fostered strong relationships with over 70 artists, giving them opportunities to showcase and educate the public about their work. The organization has created over 30 partnerships with various entities including community organizations, companies, schools, museums, tribal governments, behavioral health facilities, and youth programs.

The moment where all these partnerships coalesce is the REZARTX annual event. Directed by Indigenous philosophies for building community, the event is a mass collaboration. The REZILIENCE team handles logistics while inviting partners to take ownership of each focus area during the experience.

“What’s critical and unique with REZILIENCE is that it’s part of this movement to build a greater community by the people who it’s about,” says Jaclyn Roessel (Navajo), Warren’s wife and a volunteer for the organization.

“What’s critical and unique with REZILIENCE is that it’s part of this movement to build a greater community by the people who it’s about.”
— - Jaclyn Roessel (Navajo)

“It’s an examination of how do you build strong communities, how did our ancestors do it?” Warren adds. “It’s intimidating at times but we want it to become something people can utilize and look towards as a space to engage, to see it as their own space.”

REZARTX was held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their state-of-the-art Albuquerque Journal Theatre is one of the largest indoor theaters in New Mexico and provided optimal sound quality and three levels of seating.

Inside the plaza, attendees watched the stunning 8’x40’ video mural installation near the stage. Sponsored by Albuquerque’s Public Art and created by Joseph Hopkins (Muskogee Creek / Seminole) and Britney King (Navajo / Chippewa-Cree) four screens flashed the past, present, and future of Indigenous people in images and words to kick off the robust concert schedule.

Bobby Wilson (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) of the 1491s — a Native sketch comedy group — emceed the concert which captivated audiences with stellar performances by Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiian Native artists. Beats resounded from alternative rock, folk, island reggae, hip-hop, and soul along with cultural dances and traditional songs, all supported by visual effects and stage projections.

“It’s an examination of how do you build strong communities, how did our ancestors do it? [...] we want it to become something people can utilize and look towards as a space to engage, to see it as their own space.”
— Warren Montoya (Santa Ana Pueblo), The REZILIENCE Organization's Executive Director

Among the performers were two former First Peoples Fund fellows: Tall Paul (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) and Tanaya Winder (Duckwater Shoshone / Pyramid Lake Paiute / Southern Ute). This was Tanaya’s second appearance at REZARTX.

“Tanaya did poetry and an awesome acoustic session,” Warren says. “She was able to premiere some new pieces at REZARTX. And I can’t believe how amazing Tall Paul is as an artist. He’s quiet, but onstage, he’s rolling through those lyrics.”

The venue also gave voice to a local youth poetry program, the Radical Poets from the Native American Community Academy.

“They were talented,” Jaclyn says. “Owning that space alongside these professional artists, people who are making a career in the industry, they were able to see that it’s possible to pursue that path."

“A highlight of the event is this idea of connecting Indigenous people. One of the most traditional things that Indigenous people do is share their stories, their knowledge, their ways with each other. “
— Jaclyn Roessel (Navajo)

The success of this year’s REZARTX event is driving the continuance of the work and helping to shape long-term visions for the organization. With focused efforts and honest management, they continue to make progress. REZILIENCE is transforming this year as the organization seeks a sustainable plan going forward.

“This is a planning and reevaluating year. We were excited to have First Peoples Fund support this transition and continuation.”

In addition to supporting REZILIENCE through the ONS grant, First Peoples Fund also held a Native Artist Professional Development training for local artists. In the days just before the REZARTX event, twenty-three artists took away knowledge that helped them identify, develop and polish their business skills. Some of them had the opportunity to put these skills into practice at REZARTX. Over a dozen artists set up in the vendors market, showcasing fashion design, jewelry, ledger art, and paintings. Combined with the performers, the event was a opportunity for artists of all mediums to interact and celebrate together.

“A highlight of the event is this idea of connecting Indigenous people,” says Jaclyn. “One of the most traditional things that Indigenous people do is share their stories, their knowledge, their ways with each other. Our ancestors have done it. So even though we’re in this contemporary setting, we are continuing that tradition.”