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Why Indigenous Arts -- and Hawaii Artists -- Matter

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Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) President and CEO T. Lulani Arquette is visibly moved as she describes how the audience responded to the innovative work of Christopher Kaui Morgan at the 2013 Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Conference. "There was a palpable thrill in the room, a sense that we were witnessing something new and exciting. This is the kind of work we want to encourage," she says. Not yet four years since it began funding, NACF has made significant investments to nurture native artistic expression, celebrate culture and engage communities. These investments help keep tradition alive -- but also help indigenous artists push past old forms and break new ground.

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Crab Hula by Patrick Makuakane

That clearly is what makes the work of NACF so significant. This isn't just about feeding struggling artists. Underlying everything NACF does is the conviction that native artists and culture-bearers play a vital role in enlivening the community. Through its mission and its outreach, its grants and the platforms it provides for creative expression and collaboration, NACF attests to the importance of the artist as both voice and conscience, healing and keeping alive the hope of a better, more just world.

Native artists cannot always turn swords into plowshares. But they at least give us the beauty of art in place of the brokenness that we see all around us. Native artists, like artists everywhere, give so generously to us all simply through their creativity. We owe it to them -- and to ourselves -- to give back in some measure what they have given us in priceless cultural treasure. --Arquette

NACF hopes that those who wish to put their wealth to work will see in the work of the Foundation the prospect of a return on investment that is more significant than what the market can offer. Founding NACF Board Member Elizabeth A. Woody (Navajo/Warm Springs/Wasco/Yakama) explains: "The act of giving was part of the 'gifting economy' of the Northwest where one's wealth was measured by generosity, good work and a good heart." That's not unlike the spirit that moves those who engage in philanthropy. Thanks to that spirit of giving, donors across the country have allowed NACF to help 85 Native artists and organizations across 22 states. Awardees were part of over 300 events and activities, creating opportunities for 46,000 participants and taking the beauty and power of Native arts and cultures to nearly 850,000 people.

Individual Fellowships
Individual grants of up to $20,000 each help native artists continue to practice what has been handed down to them while also moving beyond to open up new ways of seeing the world. Time-honored ways of defining our shared humanity are preserved while new prisms are created through which to see and understand. Powerful voices are amplified in visual arts, music, dance, literature, film and traditional arts.

Community-Based Initiatives
People are not generally aware of the urgent need to map and secure ancestral arts and practices before they are lost forever. Nearly $380,000 has been given to grantees, some tied to universities, for this purpose. Apprenticeships, teaching, participation in youth programs and festivals also help ensure the transmittal of traditional skills to the next generation. This support seeds the ground for ongoing collaborations and exchanges, such as residencies, arts conferences and dialogue across native art disciplines.

Capacity-Building Initiatives
NACF creates partnerships between artists, tribal entities and nonprofit organizations. The spirit behind these partnerships is the recognition that the work of the artist is a lens through which to help the community understand and engage collaboratively in addressing issues vital to the well-being of the community.

Proven leadership in offering broad-based arts services including arts grants, professional development for artists, and market opportunities for Native artists has led NACF to make an investment of nearly $300,000 in organizations positioned to help artists in these ways. In Hawai`i, the Pa`i Foundation received a NACF grant to support their work as part of a group dedicated to recovering the language, cultural traditions, healing practices, voyaging, and agricultural practices of the Native Hawaiians, now a minority in their ancestral land.

Arquette is particularly proud to see artists in her native Hawai`i recognized, and is gearing up to announce new initiatives in 2014.
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"Our grants go towards helping artists address issues such as cultural equity, land and water rights, food sovereignty, and Native knowledge," she said. NACF artists received a Bessie Award for Outstanding Dance Production, had an exhibit at the 18th Biennale of Sydney, Australia, and are taking their film to the national festival circuit and PBS. "This kind of recognition inspires others to help keep the arts alive through their own artistic endeavors -- or through their financial support," she added.

The NACF website offers several examples of the work of artists NACF has supported. "We need the voices of our Native artists and culture-makers. They help make us wiser and more compassionate towards each other, " said Arquette.