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October 12, 2020
 

In Conversation: Larissa FastHorse, MacArthur Grant Fellow

Larissa FastHorse: ‘I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do work with a lot of different Indigenous communities and then also with different theater companies, connecting them to their local Indigenous communities.’ Photo: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

On October 6 The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2020 class of MacArthur Fellows, honoring the creativity and originality of 21 Americans. The fellowship, known colloquially as the “genius grant,” awards each fellow $625,000 over five years for professional pursuits. Playwright Larissa FastHorse is among the grantees, The full list of awardees can be found here.

“Larissa FastHorse is a playwright and performing arts advocate illuminating Indigenous processes of artmaking and storytelling as well as Native American perspectives on contemporary life,” the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement. “A member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, FastHorse combines a keen sense of satire and facility with dramatic forms in plays that are funny, incisive, and, at times, deeply unsettling for audiences faced with the realities of Native Americans’ experience in the United States.”

On the October 7 edition of Indian Country Today‘s newcast, Larissa FastHorse discussed her craft and her new five-year fellowship with Patty Talahongva, Hopi, executive producer of Indian Country Today.

The full interview can be seen in the YouTube video below.

Larissa FastHorse on the Indian Country Today newscast of October 7, 2020

Some comments from Larissa FastHorse taken from the interview:

“I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do work with a lot of different Indigenous communities and then also with different theater companies, connecting them to their local Indigenous communities. So I kind of have two tracks of work. One of them you’re very familiar with, which was with Cornerstone Theater company. We’ve been working with Indigenous communities so far in Los Angeles, in the greater Phoenix Arizona area. Now we’re working in South Dakota with my people, the Lakota, people creating large pieces where people tell their own stories and represent themselves in those stories.

“Then on the other side, I’ve been working in traditional theater companies telling the stories that Indigenous people ask me to tell again. I consult with Indigenous folks and say, what do you want told? How do you want to be represented? I do a lot of work in these traditional theaters to connect them. I always say, you need to know who your local Indigenous people are. And we’d find a way to make sure that they’re all connected, that they started to have a relationship and that they start to give back because theaters are living on stolen land. And it’s really important to me that they understand that. I facilitate those connections to get them to see how they can start giving back to Native people.

“We’re just as incredible and we’re smart, intelligent, contemporary people. I had a woman at a theater gathering once say to me, ‘I never would’ve guessed you’re Native American, you’re so well-spoken,’ you know? I mean, people still say things like that. This is an educated woman. We’ve all heard it, but I think it’s really important that the rest of the world hasn’t heard it also. For instance, in Los Angeles, when I was working with Indigenous people who are from this land, the Tongva Gabrielino people, they said, ‘Look, we want you to write to the white people. We need them to know we exist,’ because they were declared extinct by the federal government and they have not been able to get recognition back. They said, ‘We need you to tell them, ;cause we need all the allies we can get to help us.’ And they are still fighting for that recognition today. Whatever little bit I can do through theater to help more people understand those fights, I’m thrilled that people trust me and give me the ability to tell their stories in the ways that they want them to be told.

The official MacArthur Foundation video introducing Larissa FastHorse

“It’s interesting because in my theater work, I write forward. I try to write to the future and what we’re going to be facing next. And to be honest, I don’t know, because things have been so crazy. I really don’t know what’s coming next. It’s been hard for me to work on theater pieces. We were in the middle, right in the middle of working on our piece in South Dakota, which is a long-term community engaged piece where we’re spending time with people. We have all these wonderful community partners, and we were going to spend the whole summer there and then the pandemic hit. So we really changed our focus right away. Obviously we’re not traveling. We’re based in California and we didn’t want to be, we were in such a bad state as far as spreading COVID. We did not want to risk that. But we’re staying here in California, doing analog ways of connecting. We’re getting masks from different theater communities–having theater people make masks and send them to different indigenous communities. We’ve been working with the Hopi and the Dine up there and Apache land and in Arizona and using our contacts in the theater world to get supplies, get things to people when they needed it. That’s really where we switched our focus while we’ve been waiting out to when we can gather again and start making theater.

“It’s been interesting. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had work during this time. I have some film and television work; I wrote a movie for Disney and I have a TV project I’m developing at NBC, and some other projects I’m putting together. I’ve had work for hire, you know, my work that I’ve had to deliver during this time. So I’ve really been focused on that, which has been such a gift so that my family can continue to live and pay our rent and buy food during this time when the theaters are all closed. I lost a tremendous amount of work when all the theaters closed. However, I’m not sure yet how I’m going to write about this time. I do have a digital piece that’s going to be coming out sometime either this winter or early next spring. It’s about joy and it’s about trying to use this strange digital space that you and I are on right now and help us mourn, help us grieve. But then also helping us, together, to move on to joy because I feel like that’s what we’re missing right now. There’s so much grief and so much mourning. And when you’re in person, we support each other through that and then we get to a better, more cathartic place. I’m going to see if there’s a way to do that online through theater and help us all have just a little bit of joy in the middle of all this difficulty.”

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, executive producer of Indian Country Today, is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

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At the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Dustin Newman (Unangax/Deg Hit’an) builds an Aleutian style kayak known as igyax. (Photo Credit: Mike Conti, courtesy of Alaska Native Heritage Center)

 

Native Groups Honored as ‘American Cultural Treasures’

 

 

By Joaqlin Estus

Indian Country Today

October 11,2020

 

Before COVID-19, arts and cultural organizations for people of color were already in a tough spot made worse when visitor numbers to their facilities plummeted. So a Ford Foundation program granting money and recognition to 20 such organizations is particularly welcome.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Institute of American Indian Art Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are two of 20 Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous arts organizations the Ford Foundation has named American Cultural Treasures.

The designation comes with multi-year grants from $1 to $6 million and technical assistance services valued at $100,000. The grants are from a fund of $156 million donated by 16 foundations and donors, including the Ford Foundation.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center hosts community activities such as this beading class offered during a day of healing for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Photo by Joaqlin Estus, Feb. 1 2020).

 

Related: Striving to make Indigenous women, girls feel safe in Alaska

The center’s Executive Director Emily Edenshaw, Yup’ik and Inupiaq, said it “really is an honor to be part of this cohort (of grant recipients) and to receive this gift.”

She said the grant is particularly important because “historically speaking, Indigenous communities have received less than one percent of philanthropic dollars nationwide.” She said the bold and visionary leadership of the Ford Foundation and other funders, “allows us to have a seat at the table. That’s important. And that matters. Because what we have to say the world needs to hear.”

She said the foundation launched the effort because the pandemic presents an existential threat to nonprofit organizations and arts institutions across the country. “Economists and fundraising experts predict that the drop in charitable giving will likely be more significant than that of the Great Recession in 2008, and recovery will likely take longer. Arts and culture organizations play an essential role in our communities, and without intensified support many organizations may be forced to close for good. This is especially true for organizations led by and serving communities of color that have already been historically underfunded.

Ford Foundation Program Officer Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Mapuche Nation of Chile, said the cultural treasures program is an initiative to acknowledge and honor the diversity of artistic expression and excellence in the United States. She said the foundation launched the effort because the pandemic presents an existential threat to nonprofit organizations and arts institutions across the country. “Economists and fundraising experts predict that the drop in charitable giving will likely be more significant than that of the Great Recession in 2008, and recovery will likely take longer.

“Arts and culture organizations play an essential role in our communities,” Aranda-Alvarado continued, “and without intensified support many organizations may be forced to close for good. This is especially true for organizations led by and serving communities of color that have already been historically underfunded.

She cited a 2015 report on diversity in the arts by the University of Maryland DeVos Institute of Arts Management that said the top 20 mainstream organizations have a median budget of $61 million, compared to $3.8 million for the top 20 organizations of color. “A difference of 16 times in median budget size is a glaring illustration of this disparity in terms of our commitment to Indigenous American groups,” Aranda-Alvarado said.

In a prepared statement, the Ford Foundation said the organizations designated as national treasures were selected based on criteria including national or international recognition for quality, for upholding culture and traditions in communities of color, for a legacy of leadership in training, and as a hub for allied organizations.

An Alaska Native Heritage Center dance group demonstrates a Yup’ik dance. (Photo by Tatiana Ticknor, courtesy of Alaska Native Heritage Center)

Edenshaw said COVID-19 tested the center’s resilience and agility. She praised staff and partners for bringing strength. “We knew that we were not in this alone,” she said. “We knew that we had partners that we could lean on. We also knew that we could lean on our Native values.”

She expressed appreciation to the Parks Foundation, and Anchorage Museum. She highlighted the Rasmusen Foundation and its CEO Diane Kaplan for fostering the center’s relationship with the Ford Foundation.

The Ford Foundation said the center demonstrated its agility in responding to the pandemic. It “quickly pivoted to online and virtual programming, such as storytelling, cooking classes, and art classes. ANHC also created cultural boxes for K-12 students across the country.”

Edenshaw said “this gift (of recognition and funding) really not only helps us become more whole but it helps us heal from racism and ongoing colonialism and these injustices that are prevalent in all aspects of our life. And so what better gift is there than the gift of healing.”

Patsy Phillips, Cherokee, is director of another grant recipient, the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which issued a statement on the museum’s website. She said “MoCNA is honored to receive this national recognition and award, and to be included in the twenty BIPOC organizations selected.

Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico (Photo by Alison Leigh Lilly, courtesy of Creative Commons)

“I have had relationships with program officers of the Ford Foundation my entire career and they have always been supportive of the Indigenous art organizations I have worked with over the past 25 years, including Atlatl, Inc., the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

“Museum staff is excited to join this cohort of important BIPOC organizations and, through this support, look forward to finding new and different ways to advance contemporary Native arts and cultures,” Phillips said.

The museum is the nation’s only museum for exhibiting, collecting, and interpreting the most progressive work of contemporary Native artists, says its website. It boasts 9,000 artworks created since 1962.

The museum did not respond to inquiries for this article.

Donors include the Ford Foundation, the Abrams Foundation, Alice Walton Foundation. Bloomberg Philanthropies Tom and Lisa Blumenthal, and Barbara and Amos Hostetter.

Other grant recipients include the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, Project Row houses in Houston, the American National Museum in Michigan and the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

 

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

 

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