First Peoples Fund Celebrates Release of Creative Economy Study

An in-depth study of the Native American art market—the first of its kind in the United States—has been released to elevate an awareness of the impact art has on the economic sustainability of artists, and entire communities.

First Peoples Fund administered the American Indian Creative Economy Market Study Project survey in the fall of 2011 through a partnership with the Northwest Area Foundation, Artspace, Colorado State University and Leveraging Investments in Creativity.

The survey took a close look at household economics, social networks and infrastructural needs of Native artists, examined the support programs available for them, and made the case for art as an economic driver of the community. Almost 75 percent of the information collected was on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Indian Reservations.

The project revealed that not only is art a viable underground market on the reservation, but it also has the potential to be a leading economic driver if fueled with the right resources.

“So many artists are relying on their work to provide for themselves and their families,” said Lori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund. “There is no doubt that this project will help not only First Peoples Fund, but communities around the country, to help connect and secure support for those artists.”

Some of the key points of the survey include:

  • 30 percent of Native peoples are practicing or potential artists, and most live below the poverty line.
  • 51 percent of Native households depend on home-based enterprises for cash income.
  • 79 percent of those home-based enterprises consist of some form of traditional arts.
  • Emerging artists travel an average of 51 miles to collect supplies.
  • Only 1 percent of emerging artists have a formal relationship with a bank or financial institution.
  • Only 6 percent of artists on the reservation said they felt they had “formal” and “informal” support.
  • 28 percent of emerging artists received training from a formal institution (higher education, nonprofit, business), while 47 percent said they learned informally (friends, family and elders).

Justin Huenemann, a program officer at Northwest Area Foundation and partner in the project, said the report shines a light on one of the greatest untapped economic development engines on the reservation. Pourier agreed.

“We have always known that art is deeply intertwined in the history and culture of these communities,” she said. “But to now have a road map of how to take that art—art that is both intrinsically and economically valuable—and get it into the marketplace, is exciting.”

The report also details the areas that Native artists rely on for success, including access to capital, financial education, increased knowledge of the distribution networks that support artists, access to markets and professional development training.

Download the full report and read more about the survey at