The Artist Leadership Program (ALP) of 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. ALP's goal is to recognize and promote indigenous artistic leadership. At the same time, the program seeks to enhance the artistic growth, development, and leadership of emerging student artists and scholars through workshops and youth public art projects in the artists' communities. Selection for the program is based on the artists’ proposed research, proposed workshops or public art projects, digital portfolios, resumes, artist statements, and letters of community support.
During April 2014, the museum hosted Holly Nordlum, Gerald Cournoyer, Royce Manuel, and Nathalie Picard—outstanding artists from Alaska, South Dakota, Arizona, and Québec—while they conducted research in the museum’s collections. Here, Holly, Gerald, and Nathalie share their aspirations and values, and their thoughts about Native leadership and the arts. Later in the summer, we'll hear from Royce on his research into the technology of bows and arrows and their importance to Aw-Thum men and boys.
From left to right: Gerald Cournoyer (Oglala Lakota), Nathalie Picard (Huron-Wendat), Holly Nordlum (Inupiaq), and Royce Manuel (Ak-Mierl Aw-Thum)—individual artists selected for the 2014 Artist Leadership Program at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The NMAI Cultural Resources Center (CRC), in the background, houses the museum's object collections and archives. All photos are by Keevin Lewis (Navajo), NMAI.
I am Holly Mititquq Nordlum, Inupiaq visual artist, and I live in Anchorage. I grew up in Kotzebue, Alaska. My work reflects where I come from, but also who I am now as a Native person, an American, a mother, and a common woman. I use printmaking, painting, sculpture, and other mediums to express my ideas about life.
My intent when I came to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington was to do museum collections research and find as many objects as I could to show my summer high school students in Anchorage—urban Native students who might not have any idea where they came from or who they are as Native people. I wanted to find something for everyone. Also, while I was looking in the NMAI collections, I was naturally interested in Inupiaq items and was so inspired by what I found. I took many photo images and can’t wait to get home to get working.
Holly Nordlum photographing objects that will click with her students in Anchorage.
There are so many significant moments of the program to recall! But I do remember that I held a pair of Inupiaq wooden sun goggles (glasses) up to my face and felt I had stepped back in time. I was amazed at the objects the museum has in the collections, but also at what my own people created with the technology available to them. I hope to get that across to my students.
I guess my biggest perception shift during this trip is that, as Native Americans, we are the same. We are all affected by the same issues and government restrictions, whether we are on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota or in a village in Northwest Alaska. The climate might be different, but the lives and culture are so similar it’s hard to deny our connection. The NMAI Artist Leadership experience has only increased my feelings of community.
I am also more determined. The experience at NMAI and the Artist Leadership Program confirmed and strengthened my quest not only to educate myself, but also to give my students more as far as a connection and community. I would encourage all artists to apply to the NMAI Artist Leadership Program as this program was so inspiring and exciting and gave me so much to work with for future art projects and for my students.
I'm Gerald Cournoyer, an Oglala Lakota painter from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and I recently relocated to the Washington, D.C., area. My goal with the NMAI Artist Leadership Program changed from making pots to actually harvesting raw clay and turning it into useable clay.There is more to making pots than just coiling and firing.
Gerald Cournoyer working with reference materials from the archives and the Vine Deloria Jr. Library at the CRC.
When I initially applied to the ALP program, I was working at our local tribal community college. Now I want to give back to my community this knowledge of pit-firing pots. We will use slip to decorate the pots and fire the slip in a fire pit. The process will be a learning experience for me as well as for the community.
I recommend this program to any and all Native artists for the opportunity to share new knowledge and experiences from the museum. The NMAI and Smithsonian collections are a great resource for information. You will learn more about your people in several different areas, not just about what you are studying. Getting into these different collections brought my Native American art history classes to life. I am learning through my ancestors—they are speaking to me with an ancient voice. In a way I feel I am bringing their spirit home with me. Throughout history Native people have adapted to climate change, invaders, traders, and technology. We continue to tweak our art forms with this new information while keeping our connections to our ancestors.
My name is Nathalie Picard, and I am Huron-Wendat. My community is in Wendake, Québec, in Canada. I recently moved to the United States to live in Oregon, and I am a musician. I studied the transverse flute at the Conservatory of Quebec and the University of Montreal in the jazz and pop music program. I specialized in Cuban jazz and Latin jazz. I also play the Native American flute, I am a composer and storyteller, and I sing traditional songs with the drum.
Nathalie Picard studying a flute and other musical instruments in the NMAI collections.
I came to the National Museum of American Indian to gather information about Iroquoian music, musical instruments, and traditional longhouse songs to share with my community and teach the teens and young adults in Wendake. I was amazed that there was an enormous amount of cultural material in the collections of the Smithsonian from my tribe, too! What a gold mine of objects, images, and knowledge from my culture! It is very touching to see up close so many objects in the Smithsonian collections. This research experience doesn't compare to looking at pictures in publications or seeing objects on exhibit.
It always has been a dream for me to do research in the audio archives of the Smithsonian, and it came true. This experience has been incredible! One beautiful surprise along the way was that I was able to see a wampum that my great-great-grandfather, who was chief, was wearing in an old photo. How amazing it was to see this personal family experience reflected so far from home!
My collections research in Washington, D.C., and getting to know the different archivists of the different museums and archives will be very helpful in the future. The Smithsonian and Library of Congress staff helped me find what I needed and showed me where to search. I will be able to continue to do more productive research even from my home.
I also had time to get to know each of the other visiting artists and what they do in their lives. We were able to share our experiences together for 12 days. I now feel I have even more new information and knowledge to share with my people in Wendake that will hopefully instill in the lives of teenagers greater cultural interest toward their ancestors’ traditions! I realize that art was the way of life of Native people; they were so creative and patient. The world has changed now, and it is too bad that these traits and knowledge are disappearing. Today I find that modern Native artists carry tradition inside themselves, and they feel that their traditions, songs, and stories need to get out into the world! They have important things to say through their art.
Since I moved to the United States two years ago, I have been able to integrate myself professionally. It is good to be able to share and exchange information with other Native artists in this program. There are things that are beyond words that make us understand each other better, and it feels good. Usually we think of ourselves as a minority in today's world. But for two weeks, it felt like I was on a journey in time, between the past and the future. My head was full of the images and impressions from the objects in the collections, and my hands are now ready to create new projects from these new sources of inspiration.
I am so happy and feel honored to have had the opportunity to be part of this amazing journey that is ALP! Thank you, Keevin, NMAI, and all the wonderful staff! önenh!
To learn more about Artist Leadership Program opportunities for mid-career artists and arts organizations, including detailed information on how to apply, see the ALP page on the museum's website.
Keevin Lewis (Navajo) is coordinator of the Artist Leadership Program at the National Museum of the America Indian.