July 8, 2020

Helping in Times of Need: Native Arts and Cultures Foundation

COVID-19 has torn through our world over the past months, disrupting lives, putting the health of our family and friends at risk, and destabilizing the local community which we hold so dear. We are all coping in the best way we know how, and daily stories of resilience and ingenuity inspire us to keep pushing onward. In this series of blog posts, I am highlighting some amazing stories of resiliency and dedication in Portland’s non-profit sector — stories of organizations and community members who are fighting to serve our most affected populations.

This post highlights the work of Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF), an organization that works to advance Native equity and cultural knowledge, focusing on the power of arts and collaboration to strengthen Native communities and promote positive social change for American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples in the United States. NACF believes that Native arts and cultures bring a valuable perspective to contemporary life. Their support of Native artists inspires healing within indigenous communities and provokes thought, sparks discussion, and allows for the exploration of solutions to current problems in the general community.

During the COVID-19 crisis, NACF has demonstrated its incredible flexibility and creative thinking in responding to the greatest needs of their community. This is evident in the creation of the Native Arts Emergency Support Project (NAESP), which combined a repurposed travel budget and outside donations to provide over $270,000 in total support for Native artists whose livelihoods and families have been impacted by COVID-19. Now in its second phase, NAESP expects to complete over 100 total emergency assistance grants. These grants have served as an essential lifeline for Native artists around the United States and locally in our community, many of whom lost key income sources along with the cancellation of in-person events and workshops. Ten NAESP awards were also made to small Native arts organizations.

The current crisis has also forced NACF to re-think how the creativity and spontaneity of artistic collaboration can be captured in a virtual environment. NACF’s Mentor Artist Fellowship program, in which 11 Fellows mentor an artistic apprentice for 15 months, has had to adapt to our new reality and the lack of human connection. This means finding effective ways to connect and showcase art digitally, as well as loosening the boundaries on what collaboration looks like. In less than a month, during March, a required in-person training with the Mentor Artist Fellows and apprentices was redesigned into a two-day virtual format. We will be able to see the results ourselves, with an exhibit from NACF Mentor Artist Fellows coming to the Portland Art Museum’s Center for Contemporary Native Art in Spring 2021.

Beyond COVID, NACF is an organization dedicated to the support and promotion of social change for Native peoples through arts and collaboration. Its work plays a key role in society’s current conversations around racism and systemic discrimination. In recognition of the importance of this work, NACF will be launching new cultural equity programming in 2021 focused on addressing social, cultural, and environmental change. These plans, which were already in the works in late 2019, have only accelerated and grown with the events of the past weeks.

In the face of the extreme challenges over the past few months, NACF has shown its unwavering commitment to promoting the revitalization, appreciation, and perpetuation of Native arts and cultures across the United States. But help is still needed. COVID-19 has created huge funding uncertainties for many non-profits, and arts organizations are projected to be subject to some of the greatest shortfalls. We all have a responsibility to protect and promote the important work being done by NACF and its community of Native Artists, arts organizations, and tribal culture bearers. To learn more and donate to this work, please visit https://www.nativeartsandcultures.org/donate.