The powerful artistic perspectives and contributions by Native American artists and advocates enrich all of us. There are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, creating tremendous diversity and richness in Native arts and culture. In addition, many Native Americans are prominent members of the CERF+ and greater art community, providing visionary leadership as artists, board members, teachers, and curators. We reflect here on two extraordinary individuals, Teri Greeves and John Haworth, and their invaluable insight and leadership contributions. Their work expands our understanding of Native arts and culture and continues to help CERF+ be a more impactful and engaging organization.
Teri Greeves is an independent curator and award-winning Kiowa beadworker. In 2019-2020, she co-curated “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists,” with Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Associate Curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). This major exhibition featuring work by Native women, from over a thousand years ago to the present, opened at the Mia and traveled to the Frist Art Museum (Nashville, TN), the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), and the Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa, OK). The exhibition included a vast array of pottery, textiles, beadwork, painting, photography, installation art, dance, and literature.
Greeves said that while Native Americans understand and recognize that the majority of their art is made by women, other Americans do not understand this. In most collections of Native American art at major museums, Native women have not been credited for their work, and the fact that most of the objects were made by women is completely ignored.
When curating the exhibition, Greeves and Yohe decided upon a collaborative approach of tapping the vast knowledge of experts. Greeves said, “I am aware that I have no right to talk about other tribes’ things—I barely have any right to speak of Kiowa things, as I am not an elder. It was very important to me that we assemble as many women advisors from around North America as we could.” To honor the diversity among Native Americans and create a robust, inclusive exhibition, Greeves and Yohe worked with 21 advisors – all of whom are women, and most of whom are makers – to select the artwork. “They are the culture keepers and the experts who speak the visual language that we understand.”
Greeves co-edited the accompanying book, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, with Yohe. The book is a collection of essays by 41 artists, academics, historians, and culture keepers which focuses on the work in the exhibition and commemorates the creative achievements of Native women artists from antiquity to the present. As Greeves explains, “Our way of being is passed orally and acted upon. We have a responsibility to where our voices, skills, and medium came from.” As such, the book is a personal tribute to her mother.
Teri Greeves is an expert beadwork artist known for her modern approach coupled with themes of legacy and story-telling. Featured in the award-winning PBS Craft in America series, Greeves expresses her experience as a contemporary Kiowa beadworker. Being from a family of makers, her work carries the same stories and language as those who came before. Her grandmother was also an expert beadworker. Her mother excelled at sewing and owned a trading post where she collected and researched Native women’s beadwork and other art. “It is a gift to speak with my needles as my grandmother did.”
When the pandemic unfolded, Greeves was far from home working on a film project. “It was a surreal experience being in a hotel room thinking of all of these resources – the jet fuel and water and everything – that went into my trip. It made me think about what was necessary and what was important.” Upon returning home, she decided that spending time making art for her family was more important at the moment than creating artwork for the general public. In doing so, she still continues her ancestral lineage of creative making.
CERF+ first crossed paths with Teri Greeves in 2010, when she experienced a medical emergency. She was extremely grateful to receive an Emergency Relief grant from CERF+ to help her through that time. In return, CERF+ is forever grateful to Greeves for her powerful intellectual and artistic leadership as well as for her continued friendship and support.
CERF+ is committed to working with artists from Indigenous and other communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, poverty, and discrimination. We are continually looking for ways to increase our support to these communities. To discuss these issues, we spoke with John Haworth, Senior Executive Emeritus at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). He is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a former CERF+ board member.
Self-effacing by nature, Haworth focuses on highlighting Native artists and Native organizations and is a prolific ARTSblog author for Americans for the Arts. When asked about his advice for CERF+ and other organizations in reaching out to Native communities, Haworth emphasized the value of partnerships among existing organizations. Recognizing that organizations are often stretched thin in terms of resources and staff, collaboration becomes critically important. While the mission of each
organization is distinct, there are many ways in which their work overlaps. For example, on the surface, the Association for Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) might appear to have very different goals than CERF+. Still, both emphasize the importance of protecting cultural property and archives. If archives are destroyed from a flood, fire, or other disaster, that loss becomes a gaping wound in our heritage, reverberating throughout the greater arts community. Haworth proposes one possible solution, which is for organizations like CERF+ to pitch session proposals at future ATALM meetings and tailor workshops to the Native community. Such a session might include disaster prevention and protection strategies.
Haworth reminds us that we must be mindful of how we approach our work. It is impossible for CERF+ and similar organizations to extricate our goal of working collaboratively and equitably across all cultures from the centuries of historical injustice inflicted upon Indigenous communities. Therefore, it is vitally important for organizations like CERF+ to have Native advisors when seeking ideas for panels or workshops and present sessions collaboratively upon invitations from Native organizations. Receiving a welcome and introduction from a Native arts leader will help CERF+ improve its message so that the organization does not come across as an outsider. Haworth writes, “Because diversity and equity work has become such a key issue for local, regional, and state arts agencies and philanthropic organizations, there are tremendous opportunities for developing greater staff capacities and competencies in this area via institutions that bring diverse points of view to the national discourse.”
Haworth emphasized the impactful role of Vision Maker Media in his blog post, “Shining a Spotlight on Native American Media and Mediamakers.” “Vision Maker Media (VMM) is a national Native American arts service organization that supports the creation and distribution of Native American films and other media for public television, radio, the internet, and screening venues, including cultural centers and museums. The work VMM does is, as their name suggests, visionary. In giving voice to and advocating on behalf of Native media artists, they are an important player in the broader cultural sector.” Again, the work of CERF+ and VMM may seem disparate on the surface, but in reality, there is significant crossover. In recent years, CERF+ has become attuned to issues within tribal communities regarding cultural preservation and the impact of climate change. These subjects have been well documented by Native media and filmmakers; by promoting those films and the work of VMM, both CERF+ and VMM would benefit from the increased attention to these important issues.
Finally, Haworth addressed the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF), a national arts service organization that he has worked with extensively. NACF advances equity and cultural knowledge, focusing on the power of arts and collaboration to strengthen Native communities and promote positive social change with American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples in the United States. Haworth notes, “Having served on NACF’s National Leadership Council, I have had the opportunity to participate in gatherings with Native artists, served on their grant review panels, and worked closely with their board and staff. I also have spoken about their work at national meetings for both Americans for the Arts and Association for Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. For me, the highlight has been attending NACF public programs over the years to see the work of Native American artists. I have seen up close how deeply committed the foundation’s work is to both the artists and communities they serve.”
Haworth is a long-time supporter of CERF+ and said, “I have supported CERF+ with annual gifts over many years and seen at close range the value of the work this fine organization does day after day, year after year. Known primarily for their work responding to emergencies and disasters, CERF+ has become one of the most important and highly regarded arts service organizations in the country. I also admire the considerable accomplishments CERF+ has made advocating for artists throughout the cultural sector and by building effective partnerships with other local, regional, and national organizations providing disaster relief.”
In addition to recognizing Haworth’s incredible service throughout the Native arts community, CERF+ is personally grateful for his past service on our board and his continued support of our organization. We at CERF+ extend tremendous gratitude to visionaries John Haworth and Teri Greeves for guiding and inspiring us through their leadership in Native arts and culture.