Grants Help Keep Traditional Native Arts & Cultures Alive

Local artists gather for a celebration dinner for their work, hosted by Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Local artists gather for a celebration dinner for their work, hosted by Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

In Native cultures, art connects generations, records a history, and tells a story. Through changing times and ongoing assimilation, art has steadily remained an integral part of the backbone of a culture, and one of the essential ways the culture is handed down and preserved.

That’s why First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) established the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative, which is now known as the Native Arts Initiative, or NAI. Funding for it is provided in part by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. With the goal to support the long-term perpetuation and proliferation of Native artistic and culture heritage, the program bolsters organizations and tribal programs’ capacity to strengthen or expand their programming for artists and other community members by providing grants and technical assistance. Many of these programs support the sharing of traditional Native artistic practices between generations, which must occur for the survival of traditional art forms. The NAI also provides mini-grants specifically for professional development purposes such as trainings and conferences that supplement the main project grants and which fulfill a need that is often missing in the arts: the professional and business skills to support artists and empower them to continue creating.

From 2017 to early 2018, First Nations has awarded more than $60,000 in these mini-grants to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs. The professional development opportunities in strategic planning, fundraising, museum best practices, curating and archiving, and digital marketing have enabled staff to share their new skills with their colleagues. The trainings have positioned them to strengthen their services, ultimately benefitting the field of Native arts.

Building a Connection – Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

This cultural center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is owned and operated by the 19 Pueblo communities of New Mexico and serves 75,000 Pueblo members. Guests visit the center every day to learn about the traditions of Pueblo people, including their governments, lifestyles and cultures. A key element of the center is the museum, which uses stories and objects to connect those who do not know Native Americans and Pueblo elders and children to the stories of people deeply rooted in the land. Stories are told through the collection of pottery, baskets, weaving and paintings. The center also serves as a resource and hub for Pueblo artists.

To continue the outreach of Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, fundraising is essential. Knowing this, the organization sought a professional development mini-grant through the Native Arts Initiative, and with it attended the First Nations Power of We Fundraising, Sustainability, and Telling Our Stories training held in Denver, Colorado, in September 2017. Kim Klein, a well-known nonprofit fundraising guru, lead the Power of We training. The training intent was to provide participants from Native-led nonprofits and tribal programs with the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of fundraising best practices and communicating impact in a peer-learning environment. Specifically, the training agenda focused on preparing participants to be able to identify relevant fundraising strategies and realistic revenue streams to maximize resources within their community, “Make the Ask” to better position their programs for a YES, and gain the skills to develop an action plan for fundraising.

Bianca Mitchell, left, talks with another attendee at the Power of We training

Bianca Mitchell, left, talks with another participant at the Power of We training

The goal of “telling our story” resonated with Development Officer Bianca Mitchell (Acoma Pueblo). “We need to tell our Pueblo story,” she said. “It is our way of life. Our identity. We want to be able to educate visitors about our traditions and keep our story alive.”

At the training, Mitchell connected with like-minded organizations and learned hands-on strategies for raising funds from a Native American perspective. The team brought back resources for the entire center and the insights to build a more effective fundraising plan. Moreover, she said, she learned how to articulate their story and to craft a strong story that would resonate with funders.

“We were able to gain perspective about how to create an effective message, and how we need to move our audiences,” she said.

The training also helped Mitchell understand a challenge that is common in Native culture, but essential for arts to survive: the ability to speak in front of people and be comfortable asking for money. “As a proud, self-sustaining people, they had to recognize that – while it may be difficult – they could do it and they could be successful,” she said.

The organization is now able to expand on fundraising efforts that will directly impact the Pueblo artists. They can continue the work of the center and expand the Daily Artist Program by offering “Investing in Artists’ Success” classes. Museum Director Monique Fragua (Jemez Pueblo) said these workshops teach artists skills they need to build a business.

“Many artists are self-taught, and may not have had the opportunity to prepare their sales pitch or create business cards or a resume,” she said. “These classes focus on skills beyond artistry – benefits and disadvantages of technology, customer service, marketing and public relations.”

The classes give artists confidence to not only tell the Pueblo story through their art but also tell their own story as artists – what makes them special, how important the art is, and who in the next generation they have inspired. Fragua said they can use this training to sell their art at the cultural center, with opportunities to talk directly with visitors and enhance the visitor experience.

Bolstered by the professional development and training they received from First Nations, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is continuing to be a resource and hub for artists. It’s given the center the skills to fundraise and the artists the skills to do business. “The people who come here want to connect,” said Fragua. “Now we’re able to make that connection stronger through art.”

Making Arts More Visible – Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

The Menominee Cultural Museum is part of the Menominee Historic Preservation Department, which was created to preserve the culture and heritage of the Menominee people, including its language, culture and traditions. While the museum has 3,000 square feet of exhibit space to showcase artwork, Executive Director David Grignon knew they could do more to support local artists. “We have some excellent artists,” he said. “But they were kind of doing their own thing.”

As shown in this collage, art is being created with materials found on Menominee land

Traditional Menominee basket class uses materials sourced from Menominee land

In addition to providing exhibit space, the Menominee Culture Museum had become a setting for arts and crafts workshops on moccasin making, basket weaving, bead work, quill work, deer hide tanning, and the making of snowshoes and lacrosse sticks. The art is not only created locally, but created with materials actually found on Menominee land.

With the passing of one of the tribe’s most accomplished artists, the museum again realized how important it is to pass down skills and continue their artistic legacies. They set out to implement the takeaways from the training immediately.

Gleaning tactics from other tribes at the conference, the museum bolstered its workshops and began focusing on increasing the number of art fairs at the museum.

“People may not have known about these artists and, in turn, we may not have known about potential artists,” Grignon said. “People who have artistic talent are coming forward. Now they are coming to the museum and asking for help promoting their art.”

The training also gave them a pathway to bring artists together to explore additional needs and ideas. Since returning they’ve convened local artists and learned of their growing interest in having their own facility for workshops and exhibiting and promoting their art. Based on a workshop he attended, Grignon shared how Native artists near the Grand Canyon had similar dreams and had transformed an abandoned building into an art center.

“Seeing that other organizations had success made the possibility real,” said Grignon. “Now we’ve had two further meetings and we’re sharing ideas of how to do it, and how we can help move that process forward.”

The training has reignited efforts to continue to revitalize Menominee arts and crafts, a goal that is crucial to sustaining the Menominee Indian ways.

“Art is part of the culture, part of our customs, and part of our traditions and history,” said Grignon. “With efforts like this, things are coming back. It’s good for people, good for the reservation, good for everyone associated with the arts.”

Creating a Living Culture – Tulalip Foundation and Tulalip Tribe’s Hibulb Cultural Center

The Tulalip Foundation supports the Tulalip Tribes and surrounding communities of Tulalip, Washington, including the Hibulb Cultural Center, whose mission is to collect and enhance the history, cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes. The center is a “living environment” where the public can learn through poetry readings, lectures, films and artist workshops, and local artists can display their work and teach others their skills.

ATALM Conference Booklet

ATALM Conference Booklet

After being awarded the grant, Museum Curator Tessa Campbell headed to the ATALM Conference with a goal to learn best practices from other organizations: specifically how to lead a successful evaluation process and improve the museum’s displays.

Campbell explained that the museum never had an evaluation process. “We didn’t know how our guests would find out about us or what else they would like to see in the museum,” she said. Through the training, she learned what should be involved in a proper evaluation, which has enabled the museum to create a stronger marketing plan.

Campbell also came back armed with how to improve the look and feel of the whole gallery. Before the training, the display labels were poorly lit, long and wordy, and often illegible, she said. Through the workshops, they learned how to improve the structure of the displays along with techniques for layering text, grouping items, and breaking down information.

Tulalip Foundation Executive Director Nicole Sieminski said the new displays will help people learn from the past and bring that knowledge into the future. “We have to improve our presentation and show that our culture and art are still alive. We want to convey that things are still being created,” she said.

Nicole Sieminski, left, of the Tulalip Foundation at the Power of We training

Nicole Sieminski, left, of the Tulalip Foundation at the Power of We training

From the Power of We fundraising training, Sieminski learned other ways to bolster the museum. The training provided tactical strategies to sustain their programming, including introducing Tulalip art to the public and expanding attendance at the workshops, thus encouraging more people to try art themselves.

“We want to grow the number of artists, and the way to do that is to start teaching,” she said. “Art used to be passed down, but in this modern day, it takes the museum to share it with it as many people as possible. We can do that. We know how.”

The training was also helpful in that it was specific to fundraising for Native-led organizations. Sieminski said she’s attended other trainings for nonprofit organizations where she learned tactics that might work for other organizations, but not for the Native-owned and controlled Tulalip Foundation. “We’re a giving people. We’re taught to give away, but not to ask,” she said. “It was nice to be in a room with everyone else who understood that position.”

Native Arts Always

First Nations recognizes the important role art plays in the traditions, values and history of Native people. Through these professional development grants, organization and tribal leaders can keep art alive by strengthening necessary infrastructure and supporting the artists who make the art possible.

To learn more about the funding opportunities of First Nations’ Native Arts Initiative, visit

By Amy Jakober

Group photo of First Nations grantees attending the Power of We training

Group photo of attendees at the Power of We training