By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Delving into the wealth of stunning showcases, engaging sessions, and the in-between spaces where connections are made, artists and staff from the First Peoples Fund (FPF) family took part in two prestigious performing arts conferences and came away with inspiration, motivation, and friendships.
In January, FPF Program Manager of Fellowships, Amber Hoy, and some FPF artists attended the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference. APAP|NYC welcomes 3,600 colleagues and peers from 49 U.S. states and more than 29 countries for 5+ days of professional development, showcases, community building, and the world’s largest performing arts marketplace.
“It’s amazing to see artists from all over come together and share their work,” Amber says. “It’s awesome that we can send artists from First Peoples Fund to be a part of that.”
2019 Cultural Capital fellow, Sheldon Raymore (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), is a performing and visual artist living in New York. By attending the event he had the opportunity to absorb several showcases.
“As a performing artist, getting to see the Native showcase motivated me to continue what I’m doing,” Sheldon says. “The use of multimedia that I saw shown with the performances was inspiring. To see it on that level, where you’re showcasing to a broader audience, I was inspired with how well they described their piece that they were doing. It makes me prepare myself for what’s definitely a possibility for me in the future. I was really impressed with the whole setup.”
He also sat in on sessions focused on Indigenous issues. One session featured a panel discussion on how to give proper land acknowledgment at performances. Another session was on advancing Indigenous arts.
With more than 1,000 performances happening in and around the conference, 2018 Artist in Business Leadership fellow Raye Zaragoza (O’odham, Mexican, Taiwanese and Japanese) had a nearly sold-out showcase at the Rockwood Music Hall.
“The highlight of the conference for me was meeting so many new people in the performing arts industry,” Raye says. “I made some new lifelong friends.”
Having an FPF presence at events for performing artists helps us better understand the needs of all the artists we serve. In 2017, we completed the pilot testing of our revised Native Artist Professional Development Training (NAPD) curriculum that now includes resources and helps to meet the unique needs of performing artists. We are able to more effectively help these artists grow as entrepreneurs and support them as leaders within their communities.
“Sometimes, the artists are unaware of their own value and the business aspects of transactional relationships,” says NAPD trainer Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart (Oglala Lakota). “What is the expectation for a performing artist? How do they manage relationships, contracts, and logistics with an event producer, manager or booking agent? This new curriculum is built to give people a better understanding of those aspects.”
One of our partners for the revised curriculum was the National Performance Network (NPN). NPN reviewed our previous manual, made suggestions on what could be added, and shared parts of their curriculum that could be included in the NAPD.
This past December, Amber attended the NPN conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with 2019 Cultural Capital fellow Gunner Jules (Sicangu Lakota) and 2018 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital fellow J. Waylon Miller (Northern Cheyenne).
“I met a few artists and have their contact information to potentially work with in the future,” Gunner says. “The content, the open mic, things like that were pretty special — just to see other people’s performance art.”
Gunner was also a 2017 Artist in Business Leadership fellow. Before that program, he had not been off the Rosebud Reservation intentionally for his art before. The fellowship allowed him to travel to places like Toronto and Chicago, where he made valuable connections.
“I make music, so it [the NPN Conference] gave me a chance to understand where my art can fit into the performing arts world,” Gunner says.
Both conferences gave the artists opportunity to see how other artists overcome roadblocks, advance their careers, and share information, mutual interests and solutions.
“Every artist is different,” Amber says. “We have some that might be interested in being part of a management or booking company or agency, and we have other artists that prefer to do things grassroots. Any time you are around creatives that are in the same field as you, you’re going to learn something and take that knowledge back to your community.”
The conferences were also an opportunity for FPF to bring home valuable insight in working with performing artists and supporting their leadership in communities. At APAP, Amber met staff from other organizations and shared solution-based dialogue.
“One of the things that I get from a program manager viewpoint is meeting other nonprofits that may be doing work that runs alongside First Peoples Fund, or is of the same vein,” Amber says. “It’s nice to have those dialogues of sharing ideas and brainstorming for the future.”