February 24, 2017

Porfirio Gutiérrez sees young Zapotec weavers embracing their traditions

The Artist Leadership Program (ALP) of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) was created to rebuild cultural self-confidence, challenge personal boundaries, and foster cultural continuity while reflecting artistic diversity. The program's goals have included recognizing and promoting indigenous artistic leadership. At the same time, the program has sought to enhance the artistic growth, development, and leadership of emerging student artists and scholars through workshops in the artists' communities. Here, weaver Porfirio Gutiérrez shares the impact of his experience.

Before he left Washington, D.C., Porfirio Gutiérrez gave this brief, informal talk on his research in the museum's collections and his plans for the community workshop he describes here.

My name is Porfirio Gutiérrez and I am a Zapotec weaver from Teotitlán del Valle located near Oaxaca, Mexico. I took part in the Artist Leadership Program in Washington during December 2015. My project upon returning to Teotitlán del Valle was to revive traditional Zapotec dyeing in the community.

Teotitlán del Valle is a very old Zapotec town, known for more than a thousand years for its fine weaving. The majority of the people are still involved in weaving in some way, but mine is one of only a few families who still have the knowledge of working with fine handspun yarn and with dyes made from plants, minerals, and insects. 

The greatest challenge in organizing a community workshop for young weavers was that we didn’t have enough space available for everyone who wanted to take part. Young people asked me to put them on a waiting list, just in case someone didn’t show up. 

The students were very excited to learn about their ancient natural dyes and the sources and techniques for making and using them. The community was also very impressed and proud to have the Smithsonian supporting this project. The villagers now know that there is someone raising awareness about the modern challenges we are facing, and this gives them hope! That is especially true for the families holding on to our ancient traditions.

I deeply appreciate the institution for giving me and my community this opportunity. It changed my life! As artist I gained knowledge and confidence; working with the Smithsonian brought validation to my work. The research I did at the museum and the things I learned in the program reassured me and gave me freedom to express myself. 

Most importantly, this experience is rekindling pride in Zapotec artisanship and craftsmanship, and in the community overall. One weaver who took part in the workshop said that she was very appreciative to me and to my family because we didn't keep this knowledge to ourselves and instead we were sharing it with our community.

I poured my heart out in the workshop, because the young people who took part will carry on with this tradition. Tomorrow they will open their hearts to the next generation, so that our culture is not lost.

—Porfirio Gutiérrez (Zapotec)

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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.


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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November 03, 2016

Artist Anita Paillamil empowers other Mapuche women by reconnecting them with their culture

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. The 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 community art workshops 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. Here, artist Anita Paillamil shares some of the important things she gained from the program.

Anita Paillamil at the Museo Regional de la AraucaníaTextile artist Anita Paillamil (Mapuche) outside the Museo Regional de La Araucanía in Temuco, Chile.

My name is Anita Paillamil, and I am Mapuche. I live in the town of Nueva Imperial, in the rural area of Lliuco in the Araucanía Region in southern Chile. My main job is to create and reproduce Mapuche traditional textiles, made with sheep's wool and dyed with natural elements such as leaves, mud, flowers, and fruits. Also I dedicate myself to teach this art to Indigenous women who for many reasons have been left with no knowledge of textiles and who today feel a need to reconnect with their ancestors through textile art.

261561 + 176668
Mapuche woman's ligchamall (dress) and trariwe (belt). Dress: ca. 1910; central Chile; wool. Belt: 2000; purchased from Fundación Chol-Chol, a non-profit organization focused on economic development for Mapuche people, Temuco, Araucanía Region, Chile; wool yarn, dyes. 17/6668 & 26/1561. NMAI Photo Services.

I applied to the National Museum of the American Indian to take part in the Artist Leadership Program because tangible and intangible Mapuche culture is losing its impact due to young people's lack of motivation to learn it. Our parents belong to the generation that encouraged their children to stop practicing their culture because of shame. As a result so much knowledge and so many stories were lost. I was fortunate—everything I know I learned from my mother. So for me as a Mapuche woman and instructor of this art, it is very important to reconnect with our culture. Only then will I be able to transmit it to the different generations of Mapuche and non-Mapuche people, ensuring that the traditions will not be lost.

When I started my research at the museum's Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, my main goal was to examine the collection of trariwes, or women's traditional belts, identifying iconographic patterns that were lost in the textiles that are produced today. My goal was to be able to reproduce the patterns, working together with the women of the group Wallontu Witral to which I belong and of which I am president. The trariwe is one of the most sacred pieces for us as a people, and I thought that during the trip to Washington, I would only get to see trariwes. When I got to the Cultural Resources Center, however, and started my project, I was impressed by the number of objects in the collections and the care with which they are treated. That was something I did not expect, because here in rural communities we see very old textiles thrown on the floor or hung on a fence. Also I do not speak English, and I was a little worried that I might not be able to communicate and work independently. I thought it would be difficult, but it was not, because the museum's whole team was very willing to help me at all times.

ALP artists 2014–15 at the CRC
Individuals artists who took part in the Artist Leadership Program for 2014–15 (left to right): Keevin Lewis (Navajo), the museum's outreach program coordinator; Lisa Rutherford (Cherokee Nation), Anita Paillamil Antiqueo (Mapuche), Jacob Butler (Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community), and Irma Alvarez Ccoscco (Quechua). National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland.

To all the artists who are applying, especially those who do not speak English, do not to be afraid of the language. The feeling of being there with some of your own living culture is invaluable, and the team is always looking for ways in which you're right! Do not be frustrated if you cannot be selected immediately. Do try again, because you can always count on the support and guidance of Keevin Lewis, the Artist Leadership Program's outreach coordinator and now a very good friend. It is also a unique opportunity to re-meet your own people.

Many moments I experienced during my stay in Washington were very significant, but what I think I remember most was my visit to the pre-Columbian collection at Dumbarton Oaks. I was not able to finish that visit because I felt very bad—not physically, but of the spirit. Looking at the objects and feeling the energy that was in that place it was as if there was part of me there and perhaps something that belonged to my family, my direct ancestors.

White wool black dye
Anita's community workshops explored traditional Mapuche dyeing, among other techniques. To create black, white wool is first boiled with maqui tree leaves, which turn the wool yellow. Oily mud from a local swamp is then added to turn the yellow wool black.

This made me think that this time I am living is something unique, something very important, and that reconnecting with our culture is a task that must continue. One of the ways to assure that is through my community art project. My goal is to share that experience with all who feel this attachment to nature and the land that gives us life, because it is important to preserve and disseminate the knowledge of our grandmothers.

Thanks to my trip to the museum, from February 16 to 20, 2015, I conducted many activities in different communities in my area, retransmitting my experience in Washington, much of what I could see in the museum's collections, as well as my own feelings as a Mapuche woman. About 200 people were involved in this project, mostly Mapuche women who have been my students. Now they’re continuing to develop traditional textiles in their own communities. Among the most important activities was the rescue of natural dyeing to give white wool a black color—important knowledge for Mapuche culture because black represents security. Also during the week of my community art project we had very important discussions about the protection of our textile iconography, as it is part of us as a people and belongs to and is characteristic of our culture.

I think the most important aspect of my experience in the program is that I have gained more confidence in my work, and more appreciation for it at different levels. I feel my role within my culture is to continue working so that knowledge is not lost—teaching women, children, young people, and all those who are interested in learning. When I was in Washington, I realized that this is part of my purpose in life—to preserve traditions, spread awareness, and support Mapuche women who are somehow reconnecting with all this ancestral knowledge.

—Anita Paillamil (Mapuche)

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December 08, 2015

Artist Leadership Program Presentations, December 9, Live at the Museum in Washington and Online

On Wednesday, December 9, at 2 p.m., the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., presents artists Maura Garcia, Porfirio Gutiérrez, Linley Logan, and Theresa Secord talking about their art, their research at the museum, and their plans to share what they've learned with their communities. The four artists are in Washington as part of the museum's Artist Leadership Program for Individual Artists. The forum, titled "Bringing It Home: Artists Reconnecting Cultural Heritage with Community," will be moderated by Dr. Gabrielle Tayac (Piscataway Indian Nation), a historian at the National Museum of the American Indian. The program is free and open to the public. It will also be webcast live and archived on the museum's YouTube channel. 

"Reconnecting cultural heritage" could serve as the mission statement for the Artist Leadership Program. The program for individual artists brings indigenous artists of the Western Hemisphere to Washington to do research in museum collections and to explore new artistic insights, skills, and techniques; the artists then return home to share with their cultural communities and the general public the value of Native knowledge expressed through art. A second track of the Artists Leadership Program works with local museums, arts organizations, and cultural institutions in the United States and Canada to provide similar opportunities for indigenous artists to do research at the regional level, develop their skills and vision, and encourage personal growth and community development through art. 

Maura Garcia Porfirio Gutiérrez

Theresa Secord
This year's Artist Leadership Program individual grantees, clockwise from upper left: Maura Garcia, Porfirio Gutiérrez, Linley Logan, and Theresa Secord.

Linley Logan












Speaking Wednesday will be: 

Maura Garcia (Cherokee/ Mattamuskeet), from Kansas, works in dance and multimedia performance. Maura plans to incorporate elements from the museum's collections in her work with the youth of the Kansas City Indian Center to create an urban Indigenous public performance. Her primary research focuses on the Cahokia and Spiro sites and the central Mississippi Valley mound sites within 500 miles of present-day Kansas City. 

Porfirio Gutiérrez (Zapotec), from California, is a master Zapotec weaver who works with natural dyes. Porfirio is researching Zapotec textile art fabrication techniques to verify that methods used in the past are still in use today. He will do his community project near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, in Teotitlan del Valle, a town known for its traditional Zapotec weavings made with fibers dyed with local plants and insects. 

Linley Logan (Tonawanda Seneca), who lives in Washington state, works with Seneca beadwork designs. Linley will do his community project in Tonawonde Onondowaga Yoindzade, his traditional Longhouse community in upstate New York. His primary research focuses on Seneca/Iroquois beadwork clothing patterns, as well as clothing materials such as porcupine quillwork. 

Theresa Secord (Penobscot), from Maine, is a nationally known as an ash and sweetgrass basketmaker. As a response to the loss of ash trees due to insect infestation, Theresa is researching Wabanaki basketry to learn more about other non-traditional materials in weaving practices, such as basswood fiber and cedar. She will share her knowledge and experience from the Washington visit with the Penobscot Nation and other Wabanaki basketmakers at the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine and in the Penobscot tribal community on Indian Island, Maine. 

If you can be free Wednesday afternoon, join us at the museum for what promises to be a wonderful presentation or follow the webcast live. If that's not convenient, bookmark this page and come back in a few days. By then, we'll have a link to the video on YouTube.

Photo credits: Maura Garcia courtesy of Maura Garcia Dance on YouTube. Porfirio Gutiérrez courtesy of Porfirio Gutierrez y Familia. Linley Logan from the artist's Facebook page. Theresa Secord courtesy of the First People's Fund.


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April 24, 2015

The Artist Leadership Program and the Institute for American Indian Arts, 2015

2015 IAIA ALP grantees Tania Larsson and Lee Palma at the Cultural Resources Center
Tania Larsson (left) and Lee Palma at the museum's Cultural Resources Center.

The Artist Leadership Program (ALP) of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) seeks to inspire new generations of artists; to mentor young people through pride in learning about their cultural and artistic heritage; and to reflect the fact that indigenous arts hold value and knowledge, and offer communities a means for healing and new ways to exchange cultural information. On research visits to Washington, D.C., ALP artists have access to more than 800,000 objects, photographs, and archival documents in the museum’s collections at the Cultural Resource Center, as well as to exhibitions at the museum on the National Mall. 

The museum and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe together have developed a program within the ALP for IAIA students. Selection for the program is coordinated with the IAIA and is based on students’ proposed research, public art projects, academic presentations, digital portfolios, resumes, artist statements, and letters of support from IAIA faculty. Participating students receive credit for independent study. 

Here, 2015 ALP–IAIA grantees Lee Palma (Comanche) and Tania Larsson (Gwich’in) describe their experience in Washington. In the next phase of the program, Lee and Tania will create new works of art for public display at IAIA, based on their research projects at the NMAI. 


My name is Lee Palma. I am Comanche and am currently a junior at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, studying Studio Arts with a focus in Jewelry and Metals. I also work within the Digital Arts department as a work-study student.

Lee Palma
Lee Palma doing research in the NMAI Photo Archives.

My primary purpose in coming to the NMAI was to explore my heritage. I particularly wanted to see if the museum's physical collections and archives contained any clues to some mysteries within my family about where we come from and who we were before we were Comanche. My secondary purpose was to view jewelry and other metalwork objects from both my tribe and the surrounding tribes in the Southwest, having previously noticed a correlation between those objects’ designs. 

My experience was a lot different than I had anticipated. I didn’t expect the collections to feel so alive, and I was really happy to find out how much respect and love the NMAI staff has for all of the objects. It was an unexpectedly emotional process—both looking at the objects and playing history detective by researching their history and possible relation to each other with NMAI Collections Specialist Cali Martin. I also discussed my family history and addressed the lack of visibility and acceptance of mixed-race Natives with Gabrielle Tayac, a historian on the museum's staff. I came through this experience feeling settled in some ways and unsettled in others, but completely prepared to deal with processing those emotions. I have so many mysteries to solve about my family history now as a result, but my entire experience with the NMAI solidified my security in my identity, which I feel will make this next journey easier to embark on.

Participating in the NMAI Artist Leadership Program gives you a better sense of yourself as an artist and your relationship to your culture, but also where you stand within your community and culture. By looking through the collections and objects from your culture, you gain a more complete understanding of where you come from and can take elements from the past to bring with you to share with the present. This experience opens up a lot of unexpected doors and many unanticipated reactions, but it is absolutely worthwhile.
                                                                                                                        —Lee Palma


My name is Tania Larsson. I am Gwich’in and Swedish and I live in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. I am a junior at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I am pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Arts with a focus in Jewelry and Digital Arts.

My purpose in coming to the NMAI was to laser scan Gwich’in traditional tools used to tan hides. These scans are converted to models in software that allows me make 3D prints I can use as a reference when I make hide-tanning tools. My goal is to go back home to the Gwich’in region and share with my community the experience and knowledge I earned.

Tania Larsson
Tania Larsson studying materials and techniques used to make objects in the museum's collections.

Seeing the collection made me realize the big cultural loss we have experienced in the Gwich’in tribe, which brought me to tears on several occasions. However, seeing how well our clothing and artifacts are being preserved at NMAI gave me hope that we can regain some of the culture we have lost due to colonization and the westernization. The helping staff made this experience so much more; they made me feel welcomed and accommodated all my needs.

I believe my life has been altered from this experience. I have enough reference material for a lifetime of work in various mediums, such as traditional arts, drawing, painting, printmaking, digital arts, and metalwork. I received many tools, tips, and contacts from the staff to help me with my research. I am looking forward to working with some of the contacts I received to learn traditional quillwork and reintroduce this aesthetic in my work.

The greatest impact of this research will be on the authenticity of my work. I no longer have to question if my work is Gwich’in or not, because I now have the cultural confidence to back up my work. This was only possible by seeing firsthand what my Gwich’in tribe was all about before our westernization.

Participating in the NMAI artist leadership program has really enriched my knowledge of my own culture. For many years I wondered what our traditional clothing was, but had never seen it in real life. I am looking forward to bringing that knowledge back to my community. With the help of my experience at NMAI and the previous research work others have done on this clothing, I believe we can bring some lost traditions back to life. That is why working with traditional tools is so important. When Gwich’in people have their own tools replicated from the tools of our ancestors, we will be able to work on our hides and then use those hides to make our clothing again. By filling in the gaps in a weakened cultural circle we will be able to strengthen our cultural knowledge and work.
                                                                                                            —Tania Larsson


To learn about Artist Leadership Program opportunities for mid-career artists and arts organizations, including detailed information on how to apply, see the Artist Leadership Program page on the museum’s website. Please note that this year's deadline for applications is Monday, May 4, 2015. 

The program Lee and Tania have described is a prototype currently limited to applicants from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
—Keevin Lewis 

Keevin Lewis (Navajo) is coordinator of the National Museum of the American Indian's Artist Leadership Program. 

All photos are by Keevin Lewis, NMAI.

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