Over the last four years, I have had the honor to serve as the first Program Director at the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
In building a support system for Native cultural practices and to support programs by Native communities to uphold and sustain their practices, we have seen more support and funding is needed to build the capacities of Native artists at all stages of their careers. From the beginning, we understood that for individual artists to continue driving critical conversation on global issues, we needed to provide resources that allow dynamic and innovative Native artists the critical time and space, in its most day-dreamy context, for study, reflection, experimentation and discovery.
Many creative people live within the constraints of a simple equation that underlies all of their challenges and often provides impetus (despite its limitations) for many of their successes: Time + Resources = Maximum Creative Potential. Like E=MC2, it’s a simple but profound equation that’s filled with artistic possibility. So we knew that to really make an impact, we had to up the ante for the artists. As a national foundation, we took a leadership role in nurturing creative endeavors by celebrating the voices of 41 exceedingly talented Native artists awarded NACF Artist Fellowships in dance, music, film, literature, visual arts and traditional arts.
Through these unrestricted grants, we have seen the profound impact that the awards have had for the artists. They have been able to challenge themselves in new ways, to undertake big projects, to develop one-person shows, to imagine, produce and launch new films, large-scale dance productions, albums and manuscripts. They have leveraged their fellowships to achieve further investment, recognition and awards from other funders, honoring bodies and the media. They have also made deep and lasting impressions on all of us.
We see ourselves reflected in their journeys and hope to find some measure of insight into the complexities of contemporary Native life. Our artists speak for us, challenging notions of identity and culture, uncovering elegance and moving us all forward. The work of Native artists is critical to the greater contemporary art discourse, the stewardship of our planet, justice in the greater society and strengthening the communications that inform those relationships. We are inspired by their originality, their discipline, their connection to their communities and their understanding of themselves.
To the hundreds of Native artists and communities we have had the opportunity to learn from, support and be encouraged by in the past four years, I offer my deepest appreciation. It is my hope that our work here has nurtured their genius and brought their voices to the world. I am grateful to our other partners and allies who have extended our leadership capacities and honored the significance of our work. By far, this has been the most energizing and gratifying experience of my life and conversely, deciding to accept a new position with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in San Francisco, was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.
I am humbled and proud to be part of the team that laid the groundwork for what will be support in perpetuity for the creative expressions of Native peoples throughout the country.
–Reuben Tomás Roqueñi
Program Director 2010-2014