Erin Genia
multidisciplinary artist, educator, and organizer

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.

This year is also the 400th anniversary of the landing of English separatists at Patuxet—known today as Plymouth, Massachusetts—where festivities lauding the American colonial project are underway.

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.

On September 22, 23, and 24, we will host Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners from local, regional, and national tribal communities who are working across a range of art forms. They will come together as thought leaders to present their visions for how art in public space can generate momentum to increase intercultural understanding, build community, and bring about vital transformational change.

As our panelists give their perspectives on the economic, ecological, cultural, and social justice dimensions of art in public space, they will address such questions as: How do monumental artworks and other public infrastructure contribute to Indigenous peoples’ ongoing invisibility in the public sphere? How can art in public space address institutional racism and challenge colonial mechanisms that persist in governing our societal systems? What must shift so that Indigenous artists have equal access to public art opportunities?

In addition to the two-day symposium, there will also be a pre-symposium discussion on September 22, co-hosted by NEFA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) as a part of the Public Art, Public Memory discussion series. Public Art, Public Memory explores the role that planners, artists, and government staff can play in promoting more just and inclusive public spaces through public art and community history. 

Indigenous artists’ interventions into the practice of public art contributes powerfully to the process of healing colonized peoples and places. Considerations that are embedded in notions of public space within our settler-colonial society—such as the erasure of Indigenous peoples and histories and the supplanting of Western doctrines over Indigenous cultures—influence how the work is understood and received. The symposium will examine these issues and explore how Indigenous artists overcome the barriers to bringing forth their multidimensional perspectives in the public realm to communicate our deep relationships to each other and the world around us.

Symposium Schedule

  • Pre-Symposium Event: Tuesday, September 22, 2020, 4–5:30 PM

  • Session 1: Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 10–11:30 AM

  • Session 2: Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 12:15–2:00 PM           

  • Session 3: Thursday, September 24, 2020, 1–2:30 PM                       

Below is a preview of each of the symposium sessions with links to register.

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

September 22, 2020, 4–5:30 PM

This discussion is part of the Public Art, Public Memory discussion series co-hosted by NEFA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).


How do monuments and memorials shape our understanding of place—and what we choose to emphasize and neglect? How might we reframe public memory to address colonialism’s harmful legacy in our region? Panelists will explore how representations of Indigenous peoples and colonial history have shaped the landscape and collective consciousness of Greater Boston. Looking at several sites of significance for Indigenous communities in the region, they’ll unpack the meaning of these places through their personal histories and creative practices and share their perspectives on the necessary role of Indigenous artists in shaping more just public spaces. 

Session 1: The Legacy of Public Space on Occupied Lands

Wednesday September 22, 2020, 10–11:30 AM


Panelists will discuss how our understanding of public space—and by extension, public art—has been shaped by the legacy of colonialism in the United States, and in our region in particular. In the 400 years since the English settlers arrived, the public commons have excluded Indigenous peoples, expunging them from their own lands. Hear from Native artists on the implications of deeply embedded settler-colonial systems on present-day tribal peoples’ territories, livelihoods, arts, and culture, and how these systems reverberate into our shared public spaces.

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2020 | 12:15­–2:00 PM


Issues of cultural appropriation, authenticity, and privileging the Western gaze create a host of challenges for Native artists to surmount when working in the public sphere. Panelists will discuss how public arts practitioners can develop strategies to address these issues. What are some methods that can be used to create and maintain relationships with tribes and tribal artists to create equity in public art? Speakers will discuss these questions to unpack and confront some of the complexities of Indigenous arts in public space.

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

September 24, 2020, 1–2:30 PM


Indigenous artists’ interventions in public space bring profound physical, psychological, and symbolic healing to colonized people and places. And yet there are few Indigenous artists working in public art. What has to change so that Indigenous artists and cultural workers have equal access to public art opportunities? How can we address systemic racism and cultural supremacy in the fields of arts and culture, particularly in public art, to create pathways for Indigenous artists to do their important work in public space?