Chairman's Corner: October 8, 2020

Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.

Next Monday, October 12, the United States is celebrating a pair of holidays. On the federal level, the second Monday in October is observed as Columbus Day.  And, for some states and local communities, it celebrated as Indigenous People’s Day, a chance to celebrate and honor Native American peoples, their histories, cultures, and artistic traditions. Mary Anne, I know you want to talk about some of the work the arts endowment does to support the art of native communities.

Mary Anne Carter: Yes, Jo, I do. There is a lot that the National Endowment for the Arts has done over the years with Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian artists and their communities, but, today, I want to talk about three areas of current activity in particular: grants awarded to Native organizations and/or to fund Native projects, indigenous master artists who are National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellows, and our February 2020 Native Arts and Culture Summit.

Jo Reed: Well, why don't we begin, Mary Anne, with the grants?

Mary Anne Carter: Okay, first, in our grant guidelines, which can be accessed on our website,, we note that the Arts Endowment encourages applications from tribal colleges and universities as well as American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. And there are wonderful projects to share from Native artists and communities that demonstrate the breadth of the Arts Endowment's funding and the exciting work taking place across the country. And, Jo, I'm going to give you a few examples.

Jo Reed: Oh, good.

Mary Anne Carter: In Anchorage, Alaska, the Koahnic Broadcasting Corporation produces the Native Artist Podcast. This weekly program takes a deep dive into the stories of indigenous artists across a range of artistic disciplines, from directors and writers, to carvers and fashion designers, artists share their unique stories on navigating these fields while reclaiming Native identity. Northwest Native American Basket Weavers Association in Black Diamond, Washington, presents the annual gathering of basket weavers, a major forum for the transmission of tradition across generations, an occasion for artists to sell their wares and for artists to development their entrepreneurial skills. Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, North Carolina, received funding to present the travelling exhibit "Return from Exile: Contemporary Southeastern Indian Art". The exhibition includes more than 40 works by approximately 30 artists from the five tribes that were removed from the Southeastern United States in the 1830s. And in Honolulu, Hawaii, a grant to the Pauahi Foundation supported a pilot residency program in which a partner organization on the U.S. mainland serves as a host for residencies with Native American, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian artists. Those artists assist the host organization and its surrounding community to better understand and preserve the cultural and artistic value of First Peoples.

Jo Reed: And, of course, the National Heritage Fellowship Program is one of the jewels in the Arts Endowment's crown. And Native Americans often figure very prominently as honorees.

Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely. Since 1982, the National Heritage Award, the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, recognizes both artistic excellence and the commitment of the master artists and tradition-bearers to sustain their cultural practices for future generations. Among the 449 master artists recognized to-date are many Native artists who represent tribal nations whose borders can extend inside and across states throughout the country. Artist tribes range from the Tlingit in Alaska to the Oneida in Wisconsin, from the Crow in Montana, to the Passamaquoddy in Maine. The artistic traditions that they practice are extraordinary in their beauty and complexity. To name a few of these traditions, there is Iroquois raised bead work, Ojibwa birch bark canoe building, Dakota flute making, and weavers and tradition-bearers from many nations. Each year, we celebrate another class of fellows at events in Washington, D.C., in the early fall. Of course, this year, due to COVID-19, we've had to delay the event this year and move them online. Stay tuned for more information soon on our virtual celebration of all the 2020 National Heritage Fellows, which will take place in early 2021.

Jo Reed: And you mentioned at the beginning you also want to talk about the convening that took place in February, right before everything was shut down.

Mary Anne Carter: Yes. I have to mention the “Native Arts and Culture Resilience, Reclamation, and Relevance". It was a first of its kind national convening, hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts. Our friends at the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Joy Harjo, who is the current U.S. Poet Laureate and a past NEA Literature Fellow, as well as a former member of the National Council on the Arts, was the keynote speaker for the convening with members for more than 40 tribal nations participating, exchanging ideas, and building networks. The all-day meeting featured sessions to discuss some of the key issues affecting Native arts and culture today, including using language, arts, and historic preservation to re-vitalize Native communities, plus advancing the truth about Native culture through research and cultural resources. In addition, the convening marked the launch of our federal resource guide for Native Arts and Cultural Activities. It was another first-ever: It's a free guidebook to Arts, Humanities, and Cultural Heritage Resources.  And this guidebook is also available on our website at

Jo Reed: I was at that convening, which was really extraordinary. I learned a lot and I did an interview with Anna Needham for the Artworks Podcast. And she's a member of the Red Lake Anishinaabe Nation and she's a young emerging theatre artist and she had been an intern here, in Folk and Traditional Arts. And she thought the convening was just such an incredible experience because it encouraged connections and really created partnerships that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Mary Anne Carter: I think that's true and this is something that we're going to continue to have convenings like that. And we're also looking forward to a report to be published in November from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation summarizing these conversations just like you had. And this report will help chart next steps in our continuing commitment to serve the indigenous peoples of this nation.

Jo Reed: Well, Mary Anne, that's a good place to leave it. Thank you. I'll talk to you next week.

Mary Anne Carter: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: Thank you.

That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Keep up with the arts endowment by following us on twitter @neaarts and check out our new website at where you can find my interviews with Anna Needham and Joy Harjo. Just search stories at

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

This week, the chairman focuses on some of the ways the Arts Endowment supports the arts of Native communities.