Art is intertwined with much of native culture and tradition. That is why Running Strong provides grants to native artists to create, innovate, and share their artistic expression with their communities.
These 2023 Dreamstarter Creative grant recipients each have uniquely crafted artistry to share the interplay between art and the native community.
Joe Harjo (Muscogee (Creek) Nation), of San Antonio, Texas, is among the Native American artists selected to be part of the 2023 cohort of Dreamstarter® Creatives announced last April. Joe is a multidisciplinary artist from Oklahoma, where he obtained a BFA from the University of Central Oklahoma before earning an MFA from the University of Texas.
Through his work, he challenges what is considered “Native American” by mainstream society, confronts the misrepresentation and appreciation of Native culture, and advocates for better representation and visibility of Native identities. Joe is currently in residency at Blue Star Contemporary in Berlin, Germany, and teaching in San Antonio, Texas.
He is working on his dream to examine and challenge historical and contemporary issues and policies that impact Native American communities, their land, their stories, and their right to build prosperous futures through his photography, installations, and performance art.
Joe’s project takes place in four parts: The Indian Removal Act parts I, II, and III, which looks at harmful historical policies and how Native communities have persevered; Murdered & Missing wall drawing, with a performative aspect of creating the drawing.
From October 7, 2023, to January 7, the Galveston Arts Center in Texas hosted the first installation of his three-part exhibition series, which is to be followed by the second this spring at the Contemporary at Bluestar in San Antonio, with the third scheduled to be held in the fall at the Contemporary at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Joe reported using his $2,500 Dreamstarter Creative grant to continue his exhibition series.
“One of the greatest successes was meeting two young Native artists at my opening in Galveston who said that seeing my work at the Galveston Arts Center has allowed them to see themselves in such spaces,” said Joe. “Another success was being able to share my work with a new audience.”
Dalton LaBarge (Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe) of Rochester, New York, is a Kanienke’ha 2nd language speaker from the Tehanakarine Bear Clan Family.
Dalton, who volunteers for the Akwesasne Mohawk Freedom School, makes traditional wampum belts for community speakers and teachers. He began apprenticing under expert wampum artist Hasewedonih in October 2022 and has since completed several historical reproduction belts and several contemporary belts.
During the past several months, Dalton used his $2,500 Dreamstarter® Creative grant to complete three projects: (1) Wa’thontenonwata:se – On the Turtle’s Back (Clay Polymer – 8,000 beads); (2) Kanihstentshera – Our Mothers (Clay Polymer / Quahog Shell – 2,700 beads); and (3) Tekentiokhwenhatstha – Our Circle (Quahog Shell – 600 beads).
In addition to being able to finish these projects, Dalton told us, “I have been able to dedicate additional time speaking about my wampum belts in various community forums including hosting a belt workshop, speaking at a Land Back Gathering and at Indigenous People’s Day, speaking at Ganondagan on the Path of Wampum and offering a wampum condolence talk to orientees at the URMC (University of Rochester Medical Center) Medical School in August.”
He also reported that one of his completed belts traveled to Geneva over the summer with a delegation of Rotinonshonni leadership to commemorate Deskaheh’s attempt to address the United Nations in 1923. His other belt, Wa’thontenonwata, was recently selected for the 2023 Hodinoshonni Fall Art Show at Ganondagan, Seneca Arts and Culture Center in the Traditional Arts Category.
Jazmin Novak (Navajo Nation) of Sante Fe, New Mexico, has been creating all her life, utilizing art to connect with her family and culture and communicating her thoughts and ideas on how she perceives the world.
Growing up in Santa Fe, Jazmin finds inspiration in the environment surrounding her and often uses animals from her homelands as narrative devices in her work. Her work aims to remind viewers of their connection to each other and the natural world. Currently, Jazmin is teaching sculpture at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Sante Fe, where she is passionate about teaching and strives to be a good mentor and an inspiration to her students.
Jazmin is realizing her dream of promoting environmental protection by exploring community interactions and conveying the need for mutual participation for mutual benefit through sculpture.
Inspired by the animals in the Navajo Nation, her sculptures depict stacked ravens made of glass and bronze, focusing on their interactions and acting as a study of cooperation and community involvement. Eventually, she hopes to establish a home studio and continue to make work that explores her culture and themes of connection and community involvement.
Jazmin has used a portion of her $2,419 grant to acquire most of the materials needed to create new sculptures and is also taking a glass class to familiarize herself with glass blowing. Additionally, she has successfully set up most of the equipment required for her project.
She reported that she has been working with a skilled glassblower to learn about the process of glasswork.
“However, this has been a lot more challenging than I initially thought it would be,” says Jazmin. “While I have previous experience working with cast glass, blown glass has introduced me to an entirely different process.
“I am determined to persist and continue working with this material until I have gained a solid grasp of the techniques involved.”
She explained that she has begun combining the use of both glass and metal in her work.
“This has also been challenging, but I believe the finished pieces will be what I envision, and I can’t wait until I have a finished piece.”
Jazmin expressed her gratitude for her Dreamstarter® Creative grant funding, which she says “has provided me with the resources and allowed me to dedicate ample time to the studio to work on the project and experiment with different materials.
“Setting up my studio has been quite challenging, but thanks to the grant, I have purchased the necessary tools and equipment to create these sculptures while working safely. The grant has already greatly supported me and allowed me to focus on my art and challenge myself as an artist. I am very thankful for the support of the Running Strong organization.”
Ashley Yazzie (Navajo Nation) of Durango, Colorado, was raised on the Navajo Reservation by traditional parents and grandparents and began painting in 4th grade, finding inspiration in the joys of children, the beauty of natural landscapes, and traditional Navajo stories. Her lifelong goal has been to share her art with the world.
For Ashley, who is studying art with a minor in Native American Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, art is a way to connect with her ancestors, keep her traditions thriving, and keep her 1-year-old son connected to their Native heritage.
Since being named as a 2023 Running Strong Dreamstarter® Creatives grant recipient, she has been working on her dream to connect urban Natives to traditional teachings and culture by creating a series of paintings illustrating creation stories linked to the landscape, sacred sites and incorporating themes surrounding the Coyote stories.
The illustrated stories are a cumulation of teachings from her own family, members of the community, and further research. Once completed, Ashley plans to submit her work to a local gallery and share it with her community.
Ashley said, “My project title is Navajo acrylic paintings that reflect traditional landscapes, foods, and animals. I am working on compiling a series that is connected to the Navajo creation stories. Also, oral traditions that have been shared about the coyote stories. Lastly, the plants that reflect the reciprocity of Navajo relations with the land.”
She told us that she is using her $965 Dreamstarter Creative grant to complete her first painting of Spider Rock, which is located in Canyon De Chelly on the Navajo Reservation.
“I have been doing a lot of research on locations, Native American Indian Studies, and Native American art to understand my topics further,” she explained. “I decided to take Native American Indian-related courses to understand my background and other Native backgrounds to help with my pieces. It has been a great learning experience.”