By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation)
Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Sharing energy and ideas, making genuine connections, forming lifelong bonds –– these were just some of the ways attendees described their experiences during the combined convening where First Peoples Fund (FPF) Artist in Business Leadership and Cultural Capital Fellows and Indigenous Arts Ecology (IAE) Grant Program partners joined together this past month. The event marked the first time FPF brought together the Fellowship Programs and IAE Grant Program together for a gathering.
“A standout moment was just how many Native artists and those supporting Native artists were in the same room together,” Tosa Two Heart (Oglala Lakota) says. She is the FPF Program Manager for Community Development, which means she manages the IAE Grant Program. “We brought these communities, organizations, culture bearers, and artist together, and now they’re connected for life.”
Throughout the three day event, held in Phoenix, Arizona, attendees attended sessions on subjects ranging from legal information to performing arts, community engagement to photography. The variety of sessions meant that artists could learn helpful strategies and skills for their careers while IAE partners could better understand the needs and challenges of the artists they work with each day.
“The IAE partners, their artists, and the fellows are all pieces of their own local Indigenous Arts Ecosystems,” Tosa says. “Part of our goal in bringing our Native artists and Native artist-supporting organizations together is to strengthen the wider Indigenous Arts Ecology as a whole, allowing everyone meet each other, share ideas and learn about what they’re doing.”
James Pakootas (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) posed a question at the convening while visiting with performing artists in similar genres to his — 2019 Fellows Gunner Jules (Sicangu Lakota) and Talon Ducheneaux (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), as well as an IAE partner affiliated artist, Tony Louie (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation).
“When is the next time we’ll get an opportunity to all be in the same city?” James asked. “If we find a studio and each of us pays an hour, we could get a full track done.”
Once the four performing artists decided to do an original song together, James wrote all through the night and finished the song shortly before their recording session the next morning. The performing artists gathered at nearby Folded Arms Studio, did vocals for the track, and completed a rough mix, which will be featured on an upcoming album.
The other convening attendees were amazed by the project, which served as an example of what can be accomplished by providing Indigenous artists with the opportunity to get together.
“It was great for artists who came from the IAE sites to interact with the fellows,” says Amber Hoy, FPF’s Program Manager of Fellowships. “Combining the Fellows Convening and IAE Convening into one event helped cultivate that opportunity.”
James is also a certified trainer for FPF’s Native Artist Professional Development trainings and has taught multiple trainings at IAE partner site, Northwest Native Development Fund (NNDF). Upon learning that IAE partners would be attending the convening as well, James recommended Tony as one of the community artists NNDF would bring.
“Tony is up on stage a lot, he’s creating his art and continuing to craft his music, but I think the convening was the first opportunity where he got to be in a space dedicated just to artists,” James says. “It was life-changing for him.”
For Alice Bioff (Inupiaq), who works for IAE Grantee, Kawerak, Inc., a non-profit tribal corporation that provides services within the Bering Strait Region of northwestern Alaska, the convening offered insights into how her organization can better partner with artists in their service area.
“We listened to the individual artists and how First Peoples Fund is supporting their work, and some of the barriers that they’re working through so that we have an idea on how to work through those as grantees,” Alice says. “And then to actually walk through the Heard Market — that’s the first time I’ve been to an Indian market of that size.”
The 2019 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market was a chance for the artist fellows and IAE partners to experience a well established, large scale market. The event helped participants understand what is expected of artists who participate in markets of that scale, while giving others ideas about what they might like to see in their own communities, whether similar or different from the Heard Market.
With 24 Artist Fellowships awarded in the 2019 cohort and each of the 12 IAE Grant Program partners bringing staff members as well as community artists, the convening consisted of nearly 60 participants. The wide range of artist mediums and disciplines as well as the range of the IAE partners’ services and focus areas meant that there was a great deal of learning and sharing happening among everyone.
One evening, the artists decided to also share their artistic expressions with one another and organized an open mic in the garden area of the hotel. With nearly 15 performing artists at this years convening, there was no lack of talent at the mic.
“We had musicians, people playing the guitar and singing,” says Elexa Dawson (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), a 2019 fellow. “And we talked Kenny Ramos [Barona Band of Mission Indians] into performing a monologue; Addison Karl [Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma] told stories. Everybody contributed a little bit to this impromptu, casual gathering of sharing art. It was beautiful.”
Interdisciplinary artist Peter Williams (Yup’ik) was a 2018 FPF Artist in Business Leadership fellow. As a 2019 FPF Cultural Capital fellow, he felt a difference in energy and connection this year with the larger convening.
“We’re all from different communities, backgrounds, doing different art projects and art forms, but basically all the same thing,” Peter says. “We’re celebrating and keeping our culture alive in the present day.”