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A newly published study of Minnesota's Native American artists and the resources available to them singles out the University of Wisconsin-Superior's annual American Indian Art Scholarship Exhibit as an "innovative use of college space and resources to support accomplished and young Native American artists."
"Native Artists: Livelihoods, Resources, Space, Gifts," examines how Native artists' training, employment, access to space and resources, location and commitment to community affect their ability to make a living from their work. The study is written by Marcie Rendon and Ann Markusen, and published by the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
One portion of the study examines "gatekeepers" who provide critical resources such as galleries or art shows at which Native artists can show and market their work. The study notes that the UW-Superior exhibit is unique among student art shows because it places the work of professional artists with that of high school artists, providing encouragement for the young people.
"Being asked to part of this important study was very honoring. After coordinating the UW-Superior American Indian Art Scholarship Exhibit for the past 10 years, I was happy to showcase this collaborative American Indian art exhibit and this university," said Ivy Vainio, multicultural affairs specialist at UW-Superior and organizer of the show for the past 10 years. She was interviewed by Markusen during the author's visit to the show in 2007.
"I feel the key success to this show is that we are connecting American Indian high school student artists with professional, established artists," said Vainio, a Grand Portage Ojibwe. "Our youth are our future, and this type of unique mentorship and opportunity can allow students to be creative, and strive for personal and academic excellence. This exhibit is really changing lives in positive ways and for that I am very proud."
Exhibit began in 1997
The American Indian Art Scholarship Exhibit was begun in 1997 by Gary Johnson, director of UW-Superior's First Nations Studies program, who wanted to create an opportunity for Native students around the region to meet professional Native artists. He launched the first show with assistance from UW-Superior art professor Pope Wright.
"Early on one of the things that I wanted to do here at UW-Superior was to provide more of a visible sign of Native culture. Artwork is an excellent vehicle for expressing culture in a way that people can have a visceral connection and understanding," said Johnson, a Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe.
"I sought out Pope to see how we could do it. We came up with the idea of an art show to showcase local Native Art," he added. "We also wanted reach out to young Native artists and added the scholarship contest as a way to get young aspiring artists in touch with established artists to nurture that talent. We also wanted to get them thinking about higher education with the hope that we could get them to think of UW-Superior. Pope did a lot of the ground work to get the show up and running while I did the promotional work."
Exhibit grows in popularity
The exhibit has steadily gained in popularity and size over the years. The 2009 exhibit in UW-Superior's Kruk Gallery included work submitted by 49 students from 12 high schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Their work in painting, drawing, ceramics, photography and other media was judged by a panel of UW-Superior art faculty, and featured professional artist Karen Savage-Blue presented a workshop for the students. Sixteen additional professional artists also exhibited work.
Some of the exhibit's student participants have gone on to attend UW-Superior. LaTisha McRoy, who won the exhibit's top prize of a $1,000 scholarship, graduated in 2009. Mary Thomas, who placed third in the judging in 2009, is currently enrolled.
This year's American Indian Art Scholarship Exhibit is scheduled for April 7-28 in Kruk Gallery in the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center.
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