Clearing the way for new generation of arts on Wind River Reservation

Robert Martinez (Northern Arapaho) has a vision for what a Cultural Capital Fellowship will do for his Native community on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and it's about spreading the word.

"There are many people here who are artists, but it's not known that they're professional and you can make a living," said Martinez, who has been an artist for two decades.

It's what moved Martinez to found the Northern Arapaho Artist's Society (NAAS) in 2012, which helps combat the challenges Native artists face on his reservation. The goal of the society is to promote Arapaho artists and create opportunities for them to showcase their work.

That movement will be furthered by a 2015 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellowship awarded to Martinez this year.

Since 2012, the NAAS has secured and scheduled 10 professional art shows. Helping other artists, particularly young people, is at the heart of the society and what Martinez hopes to accomplish with the grant. The grant will be used to assist the society members to travel to local schools and communities to host workshops and information sessions to guide artists in how to expand or start their careers. The NAAS artists will also provide individual demonstrations on Arapaho art technique and talk to students about mentorship activities and the growing support for emerging artists in the area.

It's a different path than what Martinez, who was previously a First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellow and is currently an artist success coach through First Peoples Fund's Native Artist Professional Development Training Program, experienced as he established his art career.

"I had to fight my way through and figure it out on my own," he said. "There's not a lot of help for professional artists, especially here."

Martinez has been teaching and mentoring youth on the reservation for more than 15 years. He has worked as a Title IV Indian education coordinator, working with high school students to help them focus on their education and graduate. He also served as the dean of students for the Fremont County School District, working with at-risk youth.

Martinez has started the presentations in the local community and plans to visit the local college and high school next month. His continuing connection with the schools is encouraging, he said.

"The schools are very willing to have us speak," he added.

Martinez hopes that the grant will jump start art as an economic engine on the Wind River Reservation and encourage the continuity of the Northern Arapaho culture.

"We have good Arapaho artists in the area and we want the opportunity to showcase their art," he said.

The support for First Peoples Fund has been invaluable. "It's very important," he said. "Without First Peoples Fund and this grant, I wouldn't be as far in my career as I am now."