most of us, the phrase "arts and culture" conjures up visions
of the Guthrie, the Ordway and the Walker Art Center. But the state's
cultural offerings are much broader, diverse and geographically dispersed
than our first takes.
the variety and nature of Native American artistic expression in
Minnesota. In a study we have just completed, we found a remarkable
array of high-quality, unique artwork produced by Minnesota Natives.
Musicians like Lyz Jaakola
of Fond du Lac and Keith Secola
from the Iron Range, who compose and perform everything from opera
to country and rock, working in environmental pitches and traditional
drumbeats, Indian humor and political commentary. Writers, playwrights
and spoken-word artists who weave the history of Minnesota Native
struggles into their work and address contemporary life on the urban
reservation. Visual artists who work with traditional materials
-- birch bark, quills, feathers, hide, horns, beads, while others
use modern techniques to tell stories or create expressive abstracts.
doesn't Minnesota honor its Native artists?
artists, we found, face formidable challenges in making a career
of their work. Discrimination in arts schooling, jobs and markets
is still pervasive. Indian artists are more apt to be self-employed
than Minnesota artists as a whole. Family responsibilities and lack
of workspace make it difficult to create, and the poverty of Native
communities means that artists must try to sell beyond their own
communities. Yet most museums and galleries do not exhibit or buy
Native work, and most performance spaces do not host Native musicians
are exceptions: Two
Traders and Todd Bockley's
galleries in the Cities. Fargo's Plains
Museum, the University of Minnesota Duluth's Tweed,
and the Weisman on the Twin
Cities campus of the University. Patrick's
Cabaret for performance. Bemidji State, Leech Lake Tribal College,
and University of Wisconsin Superior for annual art shows.
tribal-managed spaces, like casinos, gifts shops and hotels, do
a poor job at commissioning and presenting work by their resident
artists. But here too there are pioneers. The Mille Lacs Band has
commissioned work by Steve
Premo for its casino walls and hosted a competition among Native
artists for hotel room paintings.
Fond du Lac human services complex hangs contemporary Native artwork
in every room, purchased with a dedicated share of its building
fund, because, as its director states, "art is essential to
healing." The Mahnomen Shooting Star Casino's gift shop displays
Native artists' one-of-a-kind work prominently (and makes more money
than others in the state). Grand Portage and Fond du Lac casinos
occasionally host Native performers.
found remarkable entrepreneurship among Minnesota's Native artists,
too. The Anishinaabe Center in Calloway markets area artists' work.
Louise and Heid Erdrich run Birchbark
Books, host readings and operate a Native language press. Richard
Schulman rebuilt and runs the North Star Coffee Bar in Cass Lake,
providing a space for young musicians to practice, perform and record.
manages a gallery at Grand Portage that markets her and other Native
artists enrich our regional culture in multiple ways. Bringing forward
powerful spiritual traditions in stories, dance, music and language.
Working with nature in respectful and fanciful ways. Demonstrating
the healing power of artistic expression. Showing how one can be
innovative while rooted in community cultural practice. Bridging
between Native and non-Native cultures, between elders and youth,
viewed as arts and culture, economic development or community empowerment,
Minnesota's Native artists have much to share. Imagine seeing their
work featured on state and city websites -- the beautiful beaded
jingle dresses on dancers in motion, for instance. Or a roadmap
of current performances and exhibitions of Native visual art, murals,
and permanent sculptures around the state. In the competition to
shape our state's cultural identity, Native artistic distinctiveness
could take pride of place.
Rendon is a White Earth-enrolled Ojibwe playwright, poet and writer,
living in Minneapolis. Ann Markusen is an economist and director
of the Arts Economic Initiative at the University of Minnesota's
Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Their study, "Native
Artists: Livelihoods, Resources, Space, Gifts," can be downloaded