January 4, 2014 marked the final day of Native New England Now, an installation of works by Native American artists supported over the years through NEFA’s Native Arts program.  Produced in partnership with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center in Connecticut, this stunning exhibit took the notion of collaboration to a new level, with powerful connections forged as a result.  

This was a huge endeavor for all involved. For NEFA, it ranged from promoting the opportunity for building visibility to “our” artists,  to supporting those who needed help gathering the required material to participate, to working with the museum to organize a rich array of related activities – including a panel discussion, an artist workshop, and a revived holiday market with a pop-up fashion show. As an extension of the exhibit we worked closely with the exhibited artists to showcase each in  a companion publication designed to serve as a beautifully produced marketing tool, and to document NEFA’s program to date. Unforeseen was that the artists would view the publication as a keepsake; with autographs from their artist colleagues, individual copies were proudly displayed on their tables at the holiday market.   

Our goals  for Native New England Now were  to give visibility to an often invisible population, and to show the amazing art that is happening here in New England, challenging preconceived notions of what Native American art looks like.  So many new connections have been made, with staff from the Haffenreffer Museum at Brown University, Cultural Survival in Cambridge, MA, among many more, and a new exhibit of Native American art in the works at the Community College of Rhode Island, with several NEFA supported artists already confirmed. Perhaps artist Robert Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag) said it best: 

“NEFA has galvanized and empowered artists. Everybody here in the exhibit today knows each other; years ago, they might not have known each other that well or at least in the context of being fellow artists. It is an important bond, all you have to do to see the power of it is to look around at this exhibit.”

MPMRC estimates that over 2,700 visitors entered the gallery space to see the exhibit, and we continue to hear about the ripple effects of this collaboration. From her perspective, Meredith Vasta, MPMRC Registrar & Collections Manager, believes “this exhibit’s power came from the diversity of art and voices, and reminded our visitors that Native New England is artistically alive and well, creating extraordinary art that is both based in deep tradition and reflective of contemporary Native life.”

High praise has come from organizations across the country including the National Endowment for the Arts, Native Americans in Philanthropy, the Kalliopeia Foundation, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, among others. But equally important has been the validation by participating artists and artists in attendance  that this was worth the effort.  When, at the opening reception, I saw the emotions of the artists and their families upon seeing the exhibit, I knew we had succeeded.  

For me, it was an incredible journey and this exhibit was a unique opportunity to bring the public into our creative world.

kutapatush (Thank you).