March is “Women’s History Month” in the United States. At the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, we recognize and honor our women artists and culture bearers that have received fellowships since our inception seven years ago. While we acknowledge them during “Women’s History Month”, we actually cherish and hold them in high regard every month of the year. These remarkable women are always in our thoughts and hearts for their commitment to keeping the arts and cultural expression of Native peoples alive.
I believe there is a benefit of arts and cultures that has not been written about nor studied enough in more intentional ways, although it has gained value in arts and philanthropic circles in the past few years. This is the value of arts and culture as a social change tool. The head of a social change organization and one of the national proponents of social change and the arts had this to say: “The single most powerful social change tool in the world is arts and creative expression. There is nothing that transcends barriers across language, economics, cultures, and place in a way that engages people and community like arts and cultures can. Nothing (emphasis) is that powerful.”
In my lifetime, I have not seen this level of racial discrimination and hatred in our country since the 1960’s and early 1970’s. As a very young girl, too innocent to understand what was going on, but intuitive enough to know that something very wrong was happening, I remember seeing on national television these horrific images of police dogs and fire hoses turned on the demonstrators in Birmingham, the violence at the Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the burning neighborhoods of the Watts riots in Los Angeles. These images from Alabama and California flashed on TV screens across our nation and stayed with me for a long time.