Connected \\ September 12, 2018
Every Friday throughout the summer there’s a big block on my calendar. Not because I’ve planned time off and am headed for the beach. Au contraire. Each Friday I’m overseeing the Native American Fellowship Program’s weekly leadership training sessions, along with Program Manager Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné), my extraordinary co-conspirator and work wife.
Native American Fellowship program staff (l to r) Karen Kramer and Jennifer Himmelreich (Diné). Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.
This year marked PEM’s 9th summer to run the renowned Native American Fellowship (NAF) program, making it the longest-running program of its kind in the nation. PEM houses the oldest ongoing collection of Native art in the western hemisphere, and we further our commitment to stewarding the collection through exhibitions and publications by fostering and advancing the next generation of Native American leaders in the cultural sector through our Native American Fellowship program.
Through a generous three-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, I have been fine-tuning the workshop series. Based on feedback from Fellows, formal evaluations and interviews with our alumni, we’ve learned more about what skills our Fellows want. We’ve put a lot of thought into ways to integrate more holistically and creatively the future work of these emerging leaders in ways that reflect and integrate their cultural values. And, based on my own professional network of colleagues, I’ve been excited to grow the workshops into an exciting program that rolls out over June, July and August.
Our workshops provide a platform for our Fellows to learn skills that they’ll need, but won’t necessarily learn in graduate school. Things like how to present an idea, navigate internal politics, and build a budget. When you think about it, no one ever really teaches you this kind of “stuff” when you’re working, but you’re expected to not only know how to do it, but be really good at it. It’s not a question of whether this talent exists for our Fellows, but rather a lack of opportunity to cultivate it.
We also cover topics like strategic planning, grant proposal writing, building consensus and Indigenous curation. We invite internal and external experts (including our program alumni who are now working in the field) and bring together diverse insights from academics and practitioners, artists, curators, educators and activists. Our presenters help our Fellows develop soft and hard skills relevant to their future work. Some workshops are highly energetic interactive discussions and others require quiet introspection. We also learn through case studies, slide presentations and writing exercises.
One highlight this past summer was with Matt Wilson, Executive Director of Mass Creative. He shared strategies for developing personal narratives and how strengthening your “elevator speech” on who you are, where you come from and your goals can lead to enhanced community building. Fellows dug deep in that workshop and came away with an increased understanding of the theoretical and practical issues involved when using personal story as a community-building tool. It also challenged each Fellow to be vulnerable. As each spoke, we witnessed the transformation as they owned their space and their inner strength blossomed. This growth translates into increased confidence in their day-to-day projects. The addition of their voice strengthens our projects and helps PEM staff think differently about the work that we do.
Trust and team cohesion is key to the success of these workshops, and also our program writ large. Jen and I focus on amplifying each individual Fellow’s strengths over the summer, while we encourage the entire cohort to become bridge-builders as they move forward in their careers. We nurture our workshop environment into a safe space for our Fellows to thrive and sometimes even “fail forward.” Over time, our Fellows hone confidence in their abilities to articulate their individual perspectives and responses, and to pose relevant questions and counterpoints.
I may or may not be on the reigning champion team that built an *extremely* tall and sturdy tower out of marshmallows and raw spaghetti, all in the name of building consensus. 2016 Native American Fellowship alumni L to R: (Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota), Frances Soctomah (Passamaquoddy), and Tosa Two Heart (Oglala Lakota) with Karen Kramer. Photo by Karen Kramer.
Having our program alumni return to present on their current work during our workshops is a wonderful opportunity to meet and mentor newer Fellows, to build their presentation skills, to network with the other speakers, and to reconnect to their PEM family. Alumni also share their path to leadership and what mentorship has meant to them, underscoring NAF program values as foundational in professional growth and practice. In 2017, Dr. Michelle McGeough (Métis, 2014 alumnus; Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, The University of British Columbia) presented a portion of her doctoral work with us which focused on gendered knowledge and LGBTQ indigenous artists, in our workshop “Creating Bridges: Changing Communities, Social Justice, and the Art of Resistance.” This past summer, endawnis spears (Diné-Ojibwe-Chickasaw-Choctaw) discussed her experiences working with tribally-owned and -operated cultural institutions, as well as her role as Director of Outreach and Programming and founding member of the Akomawt Educational Initiative, an Indigenous education and interpretive consultancy (the first of its kind in New England).
Workshops are complemented with current readings and area field trips to other institutions in order to broaden the scope of Fellows’ institutional knowledge and network. This past summer we traveled to Dartmouth College to see Dr. Jami Powell (Osage Nation, 2017 alumnus) in her new post as first-ever Assistant Curator of Native Art at the Hood Museum of Art. Jami shared with us a portion of her doctoral thesis, “Creating an Osage Future: Art, Resistance, and Self-Representation,” talked about her curatorial practice, and gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hood’s expanded and renovated facility. As well, Jami arranged for our group to do a studio tour with Dartmouth College Artist-in-Residence Gina Adams, an artist of White Earth Ojibwe, Lakota, Irish, and Lithuanian descent. Together we experienced 13 of her Broken Treaties quilts installed in her solo exhibition “Its Honor is Hereby Pledged” at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.
Our Summer 2018 workshop series concluded with “The Politics and Ethics of Portraiture and Representation,” held in conjunction with PEM’s Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings internationally touring exhibition. PEM photography curator Sarah Kennel and photographers Will Wilson (Diné) and Kali Spitzer (Kaska Dene) presented on their respective work, and discussed the intersection of Indigenous portraiture, contemporary narratives, and social justice with the Fellows. Then Will created several tintype portraits of our cohort using the historic wet plate collodion process. He gifted the tintypes to each sitter, and retains a digital scan for his archives and future use in his ongoing Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) project. Sitting for Will and watching his process in the darkroom is a wondrous, intoxicating experience.
Will Wilson (Diné) in action, taking a portrait of several summer and longterm Native American Fellows. Photo by Karen Kramer.
We are excited to continue building our Fellowship program (including the workshop curriculum) in ways that create a welcoming, safe and nurturing environment for all participants — Fellows, PEM staff and visiting faculty — so all are transformed and feel a sense of belonging. For it is when we observe, listen, and build on our similarities, rather than differences, that we can truly create change.
On the drying rack is my treasured tintype portrait by Will Wilson, with assistance from Kali Spitzer. Photo by Karen Kramer.