Celebrating Native American artists and bringing community together

Man in a black hat with a grey beard, black t-shirt and grey and white striped coat standing next to a drag queen with a blond wig, white face paint, and a blue, red, and yellow sweater.
Jeffrey Gibson and Carla Rossi at POWER UP

Since last fall, visitors to the Museum have experienced three exhibitions from two Native American artists that expressed themes of identity, culture, and personal storytelling.

Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe and Jeffrey Gibson’s They Come From Fire and To Name An Other not only showcased Native American art excellence but, through related programming, celebrated Native culture and nurtured local connections.

In November, “Voices Like Thunder: An Afternoon of Poetry with the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation” (NACF) celebrated the release of NACF’s first published anthology, The Larger Voice—Celebrating Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Literature Fellows. A number of celebrated and emerging Native American poets read work at the event, including current and former poet laureates from Washington and Oregon. 

The exhibitions were also a vital part of the Museum’s work with area schools. A November Evening for Educators allowed educators at all levels to learn about the exhibitions and artists, hear from the curator, and participate in workshops led by teachers from NAYA Many Nations Academy and Roosevelt High School. The exhibitions and their themes of personal identity and cultural expression were also the focus of Portland Public Schools’ Collaborative Art Project presented in the 2023 HeART of Portland K-12 Arts Showcase. For this project, United (Not Divided), hundreds of students created work inspired by the Howe and Gibson exhibitions and the artists’ desire to express their individuality, rather than conform to established styles. 

In January the Museum hosted “POWER UP: They Come From Fire.” POWER UP is the Museum’s annual event celebrating middle school, high school, and college-age LGBTQ2SIA+ youth and allies. Participants met new people, immersed themselves in powerful art by Jeffrey Gibson and other queer artists, participated in a drag workshop with Carla Rossi, and spoke their truth at an open mic. While Gibson was in town for this event, he also led workshops with students from Chemawa Indian School and the PPS Indian Education Program over two separate days. 

The February Miller Family Free Day featured an all-day celebration of Dakota Modern: The Art of Oscar Howe and Jeffrey Gibson’s They Come From Fire and To Name An Other. Families and children attended storytelling sessions and participated in art-making activities with Indigenous educators Karen Kitchen and Sunshine Guzman, along with an array of presentations, performances, and activities planned in collaboration with Future Generations Collaborative, a public health collective impact partnership between Native and Native-serving organizations, institutions, and governments.

These community programs were made possible by support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, which underwrote the Howe and Gibson exhibitions as well as related programs.

“Bank of America believes in the power of the arts to create connections for greater cultural understanding across diverse communities,” said Roger Hinshaw, Oregon and Southwest Washington President, Bank of America. “In supporting these important exhibitions and community engagement events, we wanted to help bring the arts to life for youth and our entire community.”

Group of Portland Public School students on stage in red HeART of Portland t-shirts smiling out towards a crowd
Portland Public School students performing at the 2023 HeART of Portland opening event

Connecting with students and educators 

The Museum continues to make connections with, support, and encourage area schools to engage with art and artists. In addition to the Howe and Gibson programs mentioned earlier, educators were invited to dig into This is the Future, by the film and new-media artist Hito Steyerl. The exhibition explores a vibrant, imagined garden through an immersive environment of video projection, sculpture, and architectural intervention that offers reflections on the complexities of the digital world, global capitalism, and the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for society. Participants heard from the curator and engaged in a workshop with NW Noggin neuroscience educators. The workshop deepened their understanding of Steyerl’s AI neural networks by enabling them to investigate real neural networks and reflect on the biological wiring that makes everyone unique. 

In April, the Museum was thrilled to host the ninth annual Portland Public Schools HeART of Portland arts showcase. Over 1,300 people attended the opening night student performances that kicked off a two-week visual arts exhibition in the Miller Gallery filled with student artwork from across the district. The visual arts exhibition culminated in a full-day celebration during the Miller Family Free Day with art-making and student performances in the galleries. 

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