National Endowment for the Arts has provided funding for the program for the past three years

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FARMINGTON — Capacity Builders, Inc. has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to continue the N.A.T.I.V.E. Project that helps Navajo artists with marketing their work and navigating the business of art.

The Farmington nonprofit received a $20,000 grant from the NEA for the Navajo Artists Technology Innovation and Vision Enterprise program, according to a Feb. 9 press release. Rachel Nawrocki, outgoing executive director for Capacity Builders, said the program aims to provide financial and technical assistance to artists from the Navajo Nation.

The grant funding will go toward maintaining the program’s Artist Showcase website and continuing business knowledge workshops and classes for emerging and established artists in the Four Corners region, Nawrocki said. The program also provides assistance in submitting work to shows, as well as business tutorials — for example, setting up the ability to take electronic payments. 

The N.A.T.I.V.E. Project was established in 2014 with funding from the U.S. Department of Health’s Administration for Native Americans. Nawrocki said the NEA has contributed funding to the program for the past three years, and Capacity Builders contributes approximately $26,000 in funding for the program this year.

The scope of the project has slightly shifted from helping develop business models to supporting individual artists in marketing and networking over the past few years, Nawrocki said. 

“We determined that the support that was more needed in the community — rather than a bunch of business classes for Navajo artists — that we needed to support each artist with booth fees and those kinds of expenses associated with attending shows,” Nawrocki said.

Nawrocki said the N.A.T.I.V.E. Project offers “mini-grants” to help artists pay for fees to participate in shows, like entry or shipping costs, and for travel to shows or exhibitions. Some 200 individual artists have used mini-grants since the program started, including James Joe, a painter and mixed media artist from Shiprock.

“It comes in handy, especially for the (show) we did in Scottsdale, (Arizona),” Joe said. “That’s quite a drive, and there’s no guarantee that someone will buy your work. When we got there, it was cold and it was raining, so we didn’t sell anything, so that really helped with the entry fees and whatnot.”

The program has also established three regional art shows in Aztec, Bernalillo and Mesa Verde to give Navajo artists a platform to exhibit their work, according to N.A.T.I.V.E. Project Coordinator Michael Billie. The Bernalillo show will be held on May 5 and 6, and the Aztec Ruins and Mesa Verde shows are scheduled for the summer, Billie said. 

Gloria Emerson, a Navajo painter and ceramic artist, said the program offers artists exposure that is currently lacking on the reservation. She said many Navajo artists and craftspeople have no venue to exhibit or market their work, leaving many to set up shop at unsanctioned flea markets where goods are sold for less than they’re worth.

“There are some really quality craftspeople who are from the surrounding areas and they’re desperate. They’re willing to take $5 for something that’s $20, and that kind of desperation shouldn’t happen,” Emerson said. “We’re really known throughout the United States as fine craftspeople, and then to have to subject our people to that kind of marketing is appalling, so I can’t stress enough how important it is for Capacity Builders to get that kind of funding and to use that as leverage to get something going for our people.”

The Navajo Nation has plenty of resources in terms of artistic talent and skill, according to Shiprock sand painter Eugene B. Joe, who hopes that programs like the N.A.T.I.V.E. Project are spurring action in established artists to not only keep creating, but to share their craft with future artists.

“Our motivation is there. We need to have some kind of exposure so that motivation will become reality,” Joe said, adding that Navajo artists and craftspeople “are quality artists. We’re not amateurs or mass production artists. We’re champions, in other words. We’d like to teach that to our youth, because there’s talent out there and skill out there that needs to be exposed (to) generate these professional artists.”

The program also organizes a mentorship program to connect emerging artists with experienced artists. The program has been successful, Billie said — Navajo rug weaver Roy Kady of Teec Nos Pos, Arizona and his mentees were featured at the 2017 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, and Gerald Lomaventema, a Hopi silversmith from Second Mesa, Arizona, and his mentees have been invited to present their work at several museums in New Mexico and Arizona.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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