Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Public Art

S’akowin (2020), digital montage by Erin Genia

Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Public Art is a new series of conversations organized in collaboration with NEFA’s Public Art team. Developed as a unique framework for disrupting harmful historic narratives and interrogating the ongoing legacy and impacts of settler colonization in our region, the series will present critical perspectives on issues surrounding public space, including the intertwined economic, ecological, cultural, and social justice dimensions. 

Beginning with blog interviews featuring Indigenous artists from local, regional and national tribal communities, followed by a public, web-based symposium, Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Public Art will explore such questions as: How is public space defined in a settler-colonial state? How does land theft continue to impact tribal communities? What methods can we use to end institutional racism and lasting colonial mechanisms that govern our societal systems? Drawing upon these discussions and creative visioning, the series will conclude with a collaborative public art installation. 

Through this series, artists and audiences will consider how to address Indigenous peoples’ ongoing invisibility in the public sphere through art and the creative process and generate momentum to increase understanding and build relationships that can bring about vital transformational change. 

To learn more about Public Art at NEFA visit the Public Art Program Page.

Blog Series – Summer/Fall 2020 

400 years later - an Indigenous artist's perspective

By Erin Genia | July 9, 2020 

“This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of settlers from Plymouth, England, to the shores of Patuxet, which is today known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. The anniversary is being celebrated by the Pilgrim’s descendants and those who have settled here in recent generations. However, for the Indigenous people of this land, it will not be a time of celebration, but one of grief.” 

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View from Noepe: Interview with Elizabeth James-Perry

by Erin Genia | August 10, 2020

As part of the Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists Perspectives on Public Art initiative, artist Erin Genia, Dakota, interviewed artist Elizabeth James-Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag, on her art work, approaches to making, art in the public sphere and the values that guide her practice. 

Read part 1  Read Part 2

Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Art in Public Space

by Erin Genia | September 8, 2020

Our society and world have shifted in unprecedented ways this year, bringing us not only a pandemic, but also a reckoning on institutional racism in America. Monuments to colonial and Confederate symbols have been removed and come under scrutiny while critical perspectives on artwork in public spaces have become urgent.

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Unpacking Cultural Supremacy in the Public Sphere

by Erin Genia | November 24, 2020

Cultural supremacy lies at the heart of the institutional racism that saturates our country. It has been used as a tool by the dominant culture to disparage, expropriate, and erase other cultures; force acculturation; and set itself as the standard. It is so pervasive that it is nearly invisible to those living under it and it constantly perpetuates itself within the structures and institutions that sustain its limited picture of reality. The ongoing barriers that Indigenous people face in the United States are built into the country’s cultural edifice, a complex construction of legacy systems assembled from the concealed dispossession and genocide of Native Americans.

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Public Art: Power and Possibility to Change the Public Narrative

by Erin Genia | December 4, 2020

At first glance, governance, self-determination and public art may seem only marginally related. And yet, the Native American artists in the project “Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists Perspectives on Public Art” made it clear that these matters are inextricably linked.

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Transforming Relationships to Place through Creative Practice in Public Space

by Erin Genia | December 14, 2020

Four centuries ago—about the span of a dozen generations—colonization set in motion the patterns of settlement and development that dramatically altered the landscapes and ecosystems of our region, disconnecting many of us from the natural world while reinforcing dominion over the land and its original stewards, the Indigenous people whose lives have been intrinsically linked to it since time immemorial. These patterns have continued unabated, expanding the process of environmental degradation across vaster landscapes to the point where we now face a global climate crisis.

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Virtual Symposium - September 23-24, 2020

Recognizing that celebrations of colonization marginalize Indigenous people and minimize the realities for generations of people affected by genocide, slavery, and ethnic cleansing, we are presenting Centering Justice: Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Public Art. This virtual symposium aims to provide a critical counterpoint to these activities and create pathways for a strong Indigenous presence in public spaces that continue to exclude Native American peoples on their own land. Read more about the symposium

Pre-Symposium Event: On This Land: Reframing Public Memory

Guest Speakers for the Pre-Symposium Event

  • Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Artist in Residence for the City of Boston 
  • Nia Holley, Nipmuc
  • Jonathan Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Culture bearer, leader, historian, artist and professional speaker 
  • Kim Szeto, Program Director of Public Art at the New England Foundation for the Arts (moderator) 

Session 1: The Legacy of Public Space on Occupied Lands

Guest Speakers for Session 1

  • Bruce Curliss, Nipmuc
  • Jenny Oliver, Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag
  • Robert Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag
  • Courtney M. Leonard, Shinnecock
  • Facilitator: Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate

Session 2: The Impacts of Cultural Appropriation on Native Arts in Public Space

Guest Speakers for Session 2

  • Elizabeth James-Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag
  • Tahnee Ahtoneharjo Growingthunder, Kiowa
  • Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate
  • Facilitator: Kim Szeto

Session 3: Thinking Big: Visions for the Future of Native Artists in Public Art

Guest Speakers for Session 3

  • Elizabeth James-Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag
  • Bruce Curliss, Nipmuc
  • Jenny Oliver, Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag
  • Robert Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag
  • Courtney M. Leonard, Shinnecock
  • Tahnee Ahtoneharjo Growingthunder, Kiowa
  • Jonathan James-Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag
  • Nia Holley, Nipmuc
  • Facilitator: Erin Genia, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate

Collaborative Public Art Project 

More information coming soon.


For more information about other elements of NEFA’s Public Art programs, visit:

Public Art program

For more information about resources for Native Artists, visit:

Native American Arts resources


The Centering Indigenous Artists’ Perspectives on Public Art collaboration is made possible by funding from the Barr Foundation and the Fund for the Arts, an endowed fund at NEFA. 

Barr Foundation logo

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