Taking Artist Professional Development to the Next Level

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



“Is this upside down?” 

When new artists enter a gallery or marketplace to submit their work for display, the bare essentials often are not there. Victoria (Vicky) Holt Takamine (Native Hawaiian), executive director of the PAʻI Foundation, has experienced this time and again — art pieces with no bio, no frame, and no way to hang it. Is there a down or up side? Most importantly, what is the story of the piece so the gallery can sell it? 

Getting artists market-ready is a dominant component in PAʻI’s work with Native Hawaiian artists. For their 2019 First Peoples Fund Indigenous Arts Ecology program, they are preparing artists for the opening of the new 6,000 square foot PAʻI Arts Gallery & Performing Arts Center on O’ahu, and also the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture taking place June 2020 in Honolulu. 

Vicky Holt Takamine (Native Hawaiian) PA’I Foundation Executive Director

Vicky Holt Takamine (Native Hawaiian)
PA’I Foundation Executive Director

PAʻI Foundation was established in 2001 as the nonprofit organization of Pua Aliʻi ʻIlima, a hālau hula (school of Hawaiian dance) founded in 1977 by kumu hula (master teacher of Hawaiian dance), Vicky. 

PAʻI works with 200 Native Hawaiian artists. They selected 12 to focus on with the Indigenous Arts Ecology (IAE) program to provide advanced professional development training through specialized workshops in financial literacy, marketing, portfolio development, curatorial skills, gallery relationship management, and art installation and prep techniques. With the First Peoples Fund Native Artist Professional Development (NAPD) training and practical experience at smaller markets, PAʻI is raising up professional artists who are passionate about preserving and perpetuating their culture. They found a long term ally in this mission with First Peoples Fund (FPF).

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In 2005, Vicky encountered FPF President Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota) at a gathering held by Ford Foundation in support of Native art organizations.

“We had so much in common,” Vicky says, “but this has been 14 years of building relationships and trust as well as supporting each other. I’ve looked at Lori and First Peoples Fund as a mentor for PAʻI, connecting us with other art organizations. We’ve done collaboratives and worked with each other. One of the things that PAʻI did was First Peoples Fund NAPD training. Our first was around 2010. We immediately recognized this was a program we could use in our communities.’”

Knowing they couldn’t afford to fly FPF trainers to Hawai’i regularly for their hundreds of practicing artists, PAʻI partnered with FPF to train their own artists to teach the NAPD. This evolved into FPF bringing Hawai’i trainers to conduct trainings throughout the country.

“First Peoples Fund trained our own people as well as worked with them to travel and teach,” Vicky says. “Our artists would never have had those kinds of experiences otherwise. Coming back from that, the dedication and motivation the trainers have to work with the community and on their own artwork is wonderful. We have several brand new artists being mentored by the trainers. Those are the takeaways from the experiences we’ve had, and the impact First Peoples Fund has had on our community. The artists benefit from all those experiences.”

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Gearing up for the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture in 2020, the NAPD curriculum will help prep artists for the 10-day show. Vicky knows the popularity of authentic Native art will make it challenging to keep it in stock. 

“Most of the artists have a day job,” she says. “We’re trying to figure out who will be in the marketplace booth and how big of a space we can manage. That is part of our Indigenous Arts Ecology grant, to provide a space for artists to demonstrate and sell their work.”

Another part of the preparation is practicing at markets and local galleries. It is an opportunity for artists to expand their networks, increase sales in a professional environment while they learn things like pricing, displays, and how to tell their stories. 

“With our Indigenous Arts Ecology program, we want to look at next-level development –– to work with those artists that have come to the first training session, and develop a second, higher level,” Vicky explains. “We want to make sure their bios are done and take a close look at their portfolios. Not just do the training and walk away, but follow up with the artists to see how they’ve improved, where they are in their career as artists, and what their needs are for the next level.”

The other major component of PAʻI’s Indigenous Arts Ecology program is the artspace —PAʻI Arts Gallery & Performing Arts Center — under construction on O’ahu. PAʻI is busy preparing artists for the new gallery space as they look toward a January 2020 opening. 

“We want to make sure our Indigenous Arts Ecology artists can submit artwork,” Vicky says. “I’m hoping to get some of theirs installed in our art gallery when it opens. That’s our ultimate goal, that the artists we work with will be part of the exhibit in our new space. And then moving forward, we’re hoping to plan artist talks and demonstrations.”

Over the years, PAʻI has witnessed the growth of new artists as master artists come alongside them. Through the FPF NAPD training, these up and coming artists learn how to display their art, price it, and what things they need to bring when approaching a gallery.

“First Peoples Fund has been very generous,” Vicky says. “Generosity is one of PAʻI’s core values as well. Our missions align in our support for our Native peoples, and that is what’s been so great about the work we’ve been able to do with First Peoples Fund.”