Please join us in giving a warm welcome to Reuben Tomás Roqueñi! Reuben joined the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) as Director of National Artist Fellowships in February 2018. We asked him to share a little about himself and his passion for Native arts and cultures.
My name is Reuben Roqueñi and I am the newest staff member at the foundation. Just to provide a little background information, from 2010-2104, I was Program Director at Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) and I had the honor of being part of the fantastic team that launched its first programs. After three years away, I’ve accepted an invitation to return to NACF to become the Director of National Artist Fellowships. It’s kind of interesting – I am at once a newbie here, but also one of the foundation’s veterans. Over the last eight years, I have watched this program blossom. Since its inception in 2010, NACF has awarded 126 fellowships across many artistic disciplines to artists all around the country.
For those who don’t know me, I am of mixed Yaqui, Mayo and Chincanx ancestry. We are a transnational people with family in the US and Mexico. I grew up in Santa Maria, California and as an adult I am blessed to have lived in significant cultural hubs including New Orleans, San Antonio, St. Croix, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon. I began my career as an arts administrator in Tucson, Arizona, managing an afterschool arts program for Yaqui youth in Old Pascua and as an artist educator, working in residency in the public-school system. In 2006, my career in the arts expanded into grantmaking under the mentorship of Roberto Bedoya at Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona. Most recently, I was Program Officer in the Performing Arts program at William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in the Bay Area. While there, I managed a wide-ranging portfolio of performing arts, arts in education, film & media, intermediary and national arts service organizations, ranging from small community based and artist driven organizations to large western classical institutions.
I have a devoted interest in risk-taking arts practices that speak to power and injustice. I currently serve on the board of directors at the MAP Fund in New York City, whose work supports artists that disrupt, complicate and challenge social and cultural hierarchies. I previously served on the board at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Arts, whose Time Based Art (TBA) is one of the premier, cutting-edge performing arts festivals. I have spent a considerable amount of time in the arts in multiple cities throughout my career and have a broad base of knowledge of artistic practices across many disciplines, from the avant-garde to the traditional, the salon to community-engaged projects, and the black box to the symphony hall.
Through my upbringing and experience, I have learned that the arts are integral to everyday life and that there is little or no distinction between the arts and other aspects of wellness, culture and politics. Most importantly, that the leadership of artists is as essential as any in the circle of the community – that artists are spiritual, political, entrepreneurial, truth seeking and thought provoking in ways that are unique and influential. It is within this fabric of creative potential that I craft my work in arts administration and philanthropy. Because while I and many believe in the agency of artists and cultural practitioners, cultural policy often lacks vision, support systems are anemic and are historically oppressive, and the arts as a sector battles to remain viable, often struggling to survive. This is especially true in marginalized communities where the voices of creative expression have long been suppressed, disregarded, ignored and even outlawed. The work of artists in these communities is critical to the greater social discourse, problem solving, justice, healing and the stewardship of our planet. Their work is at once compelling and beautiful.
My role then is as a change agent, acting as a partner and go-between to resources that allow for creative people, and the organization and communities that nurture them, the critical support for reflection, experimentation, revelation and action. My hope is that in coming to NACF, my work builds and fosters these support systems so that artists and cultural practitioners may develop their capacities to uphold and sustain their work to make positive, constructive impact in the world.
Thank you to everyone who has sent their very warm welcomes, welcome back’s and congratulations. It’s so good to be back in the fold of NACF again.