Photo from the PNW Art Fellowship gathering on Coast Salish Territory in August 2023. Photo by Tracy Rector.
While Nia Tero’s work and relationships span the globe, we recognize the vital necessity of investing in the place we also call home here in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) on Coast Salish Territory. Art and culture are fundamentally tied to the well-being of Indigenous Peoples and places, and supporting these artists ensures the guardianship and the health of these lands. The Pacific Northwest Art Fellowship's project manager, Fox Spears (Karuk Tribe), spoke about this intentionality, saying, “The relationship that Indigenous People have with land is often presented as mystical, but it was built over millennia as our ancestors interacted with the natural environment.” PNW Indigenous artists and storytellers are long-standing stewards of place and culture, and investing in them will help usher us all into a more abundant future.
Nia Tero launched the Pacific Northwest Art Fellowship in 2020 when millions of cultural workers experienced income loss due to Covid-19. Native populations were hit especially hard by the pandemic, and Indigenous makers rallied to provide solace and sustenance during isolation. Whether through video streaming, social distance pow wows, creatively crafted masks, virtual beading circles, or educational activities for kids, Indigenous artists are still finding innovative ways of connecting us.
Bridging this work to community, this year’s August gathering, taking place between August 10-13, 2023 in Coast Salish territory, begins at the Seattle waterfront where current fellow Raven Juarez (Blackfeet) is a featured artist with the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) summer outdoor programming at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Through SAM Creates and yəhaw̓, the PNW Art Fellows will join the public and Raven in creating personalized flags that will be on display in September at the We Are Water Festival on Seattle’s Pier 62. Raven shared that, “Being a protector and advocate for our Earth is a primary focus both in my work as an early education teacher and as an artist. My mother always quotes our Uncle Billy Frank - ‘Lead to Leave,’ which to me, means always be aware of how your impact sets up the next generation to follow in your footsteps and continue the necessary work.”
Now in its fourth cohort, the PNW Art Fellowship continues to welcome artists from diverse international Indigenous affiliations, across many stages of their artistic development, working in any medium - including painting, drawing, design, photography, digital, film, sculpture, beadwork, leatherwork, ceramics, weaving, carving, regalia, clothing design, jewelry, cultural objects, dance, utilitarian objects, tools, installation, performance, and anything else these creators consider their self-determined expression of culture and community.
We recognize that art and storytelling are an important part of Indigenous guardianship and place-anchored partnerships, and that these cultural leaders can have impact on communities and influence on the public at large. Through this fellowship, PNW artists receive a financial grant to support their ongoing artistic practices, have opportunities for professional development and personal support, and join a growing network of Nia Tero fellows.
The larger PNW Arts family is helping to welcome this cohort of diverse artists to their first in-person gathering too (previous cohorts gathered online due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Inaugural PNW Art Fellowship program manager, Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), who is the co-founder and the executive director of yəhaẃ Indigenous Creatives Collective, will welcome the fellows onto their newly rematriated 1.5 acres of land in South Seattle, giving the fellows a tour and a chance to talk with the staff and their community of intertribal Indigenous artists.
2021 PNW Art Fellow, Eileen Jimenez (Otomi), will also lead this year’s cohort in creating a linocut printmaking project. Eileen’s practice embodies the aesthetics of Otomi stories and “the visual representation of my soul, and the colors, the culture, the visions and the dreams that live there.” In her current body of work, she creates pieces that embody Indigenous life, joy, resilience, and relationship to land that represent the ongoing journey to heal and to share her family and community’s stories.
Individually and collectively, these artists' voices, art practices, and cultural stewardship deeply align with Nia Tero’s mission to work in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples who sustain thriving territories and cultures to strengthen guardianship of Earth and all beings. By supporting them as PNW Art Fellows, we hope to ensure that they thrive here at home while also deepening Indigenous relationships and representation within the larger arts community. We hope to enhance the ways their art and expression can inspire others to recognize the importance of Indigenous identity and guardianship of vital ecosystems while also providing a cornerstone to uphold a network of place-anchored partnerships with Indigenous Peoples everywhere that demonstrate the power of Indigenous guardianship to sustain a vibrant Earth, beginning here at home.
Each year, Fox Spears helps connect the expanding network of PNW Art Fellows to each other and to place, guiding the artists with graceful generosity. Fox’s own artistic practice focuses on reinterpreting traditional Karuk basketry designs into monotype print and Fox shared, “I think about the people who made them, the knowledge that was passed down from previous generations, and the time and effort that brought these baskets into existence. Each basket tells a unique story and is a memory from a way of life that has existed since time immemorial.”
These PNW Artists are deepening the palimpsest of our time and adding to our rich existence with these lands and waters.
Please get to know our annual cohorts of PNW Art Fellows here.