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December 16, 2016

The Center of Southwest Studies, the Museum of Contemporary Arts, and the Artist Leadership Program Work Together to Support Native Artists

Through the Artist Leadership Program (ALP) for Museums and Cultural Organizations, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) aims to rebuild cultural self-confidence, challenge personal boundaries, and foster cultural continuity while reflecting artistic diversity. The program's goal is for the museum and its collaborators to recognize and promote indigenous artistic leadership. At the same time, the ALP seeks to enhance the artistic growth, development, and leadership of emerging student artists and scholars through art workshops and other community-based projects. Here, museum professionals from the Center of Southwest Studies and the Museum of Contemporary Native Art talk about their experiences with the ALP.

MoCNA & CSwS

Participants in the Artist Leadership Program for Museums and Cultural Organizations, 2014–15 (from left to right): John Joe (Diné/Irish), collections registrar for the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Institute of American Indian Arts; Jeanne Brako, curator of collections of the Center of Southwest Studies; Jay Harrison, then director of the Center of Southwest Studies; and Keevin Lewis (Navajo), outreach program coordinator for the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). NMAI Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland.

I am Jay Harrison, and from 2012 to 2015 I was director of the Center of Southwest Studies (CSWS) in Durango, Colorado, a regional studies center and museum at Fort Lewis College. I am also a cultural historian of the early modern Americas with research interests in indigenous history and the history of colonial settlement in Mexico, the American Southwest, and the greater Atlantic world, now on the faculty of Hood College.

My goal in coming to Washington, D.C., while I was at the CSWS was to immerse myself and our curator, Jeanne Brako, who will administer the Artist Leadership Program (ALP) in Durango, in the workings of the program at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), and to see what collections Native artists in Colorado might wish to know about in the future as they continue their own work. These goals for the Washington trip were accomplished and then some as we met with personnel at the museum and elsewhere within the Smithsonian and in other academic centers.

The CSWS's growing connections with regional artists and collectors fueled our interest in extending our work in a proactive manner, much as the ALP experience does. The program is a perfect fit with the direction the center would like to take its work in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. The intensity and breadth of the experience at the museum are the main reasons I would urge others to apply for the program. The resources and ideas available at the NMAI are immense—overwhelming, really.

Most significantly for the CSWS as a museum, Jeanne and I were able to see the Artist Leadership Program at work and to realize just how diverse the experiences can be for visiting artists at the NMAI. This opened up our view of what the program at the CSWS can do and be for regional artists working in our museum's collections and other collections in the region.

I believe this trip expanded our views of just how wide a scope the program can potentially have in bringing Native artists to cultural materials and what a multitude of responses might ensue from that exposure.

I am Jeanne Brako, and I have always been intrigued by artistic expression and how it enhances our world. I have worked in and with museums since I was in high school. My career has included various specialty areas of museum work and has ranged from organizing collections (registration and collections management) and analyzing and stabilizing works of art (art conservation), to interpreting and displaying artifacts and artwork (publications and exhibits), to appreciating and sharing information and visuals with various communities (teaching, workshops, partnerships, and tours). Right now I work as curator of collections at the Museum of the Center of Southwest Studies.

I attended the NMAI Artist Leadership Program as an administrator on our awarded NMAI ALP contract. My expectation was that I would gain knowledge about management of the project, but my experience at the NMAI made me realize me that I need to be an active participant. The program is too exciting not to join in, in a very active way.

At the Center for Southwest Studies we work with many Native artists, but until recently this most often has been related to borrowing works of art for exhibition. More recently we have worked with Native artists who curate exhibits here at the center, and we want to help facilitate that in a number of different ways. We hope that the experience at the NMAI will be a gateway to expanding that type of collaboration.

While at the NMAI I talked to Lisa Rutherford, an artist and citizen of the Cherokee Nation. I met her for the first time at the NMAI, although we have had a feather cape she made on view in our gallery in Durango as part of a fashion exhibit. There was so much more we could have done if we had worked directly with her when the cape was suggested for display. Speaking with her made me want to bring more artists, not just artworks, to Fort Lewis College to engage in collaborative projects.

I find the value of my new ALP experience exciting in that I am now better prepared to connect more personally with Native artists. I hope to commit to fund-raise and friend-raise to continue this type of collaboration well into the future.

I am John Joe, and I am an interdisciplinary artist and a member of the Irish and Diné nations. I have been around art for most of my life and have worked with many different institutions, organizations, and individuals dedicated to art. I currently live and work in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and serve as the museum collections registrar for the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA)

The initial goal of my trip to the National Museum of the American Indian was to visit, network, and further my professional development. My organization felt that my participation in NMAI's Artist Leadership Program for Museums and Cultural Arts Organizations would benefit our Social Exchange and Artist Residency here at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which of course is supported by NMAI's Artist Leadership Program.

I would recommend that other Native museums and Native cultural arts programs apply and experience NMAI's Artist Leadership Program, because it’s important to our people and communities. By participating in this program you will walk away with insight, conversations, memories that will help you as you move forward and inform projects that you are involved with in your own community.

One of the more memorable moments of the program was entering into NMAI’s collections and seeing our collective artistic legacy as indigenous people. Very powerful! The second was meeting specific museum professionals whose experience I wanted to tap to help inform my own professional development. It was also great to meet the artists participating in NMAI's Artist Leadership Program. This experience will help me promote, encourage, and facilitate future collaborations between our people.

The experience at the NMAI reinforces what I share and have put into practice for many years. Our collective artistic legacy, our vision, and our voices as indigenous people are important and should be seen on equal terms globally. What I value from my experience with NMAI's Artist Leadership Program is the opportunity to participate and gain insight from some pretty amazing people who work there. I also appreciated the platform to gain more public speaking experience at the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall.

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