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Priming The Pump For The Common Good

NACF President and Ceo,Lulani Arquette

NACF President and Ceo,Lulani Arquette

Courtesy Native Arts And Cultures Foundation

Major foundation support for Native art is a minuscule part of overall charitable giving in the U.S., and many Native art programs, institutions and individual artists struggle daily to survive. It is this formidable situation that a new organization, the native Arts & Cultures Foundation, seeks to transform.

Actively launched in 2009 with a $10 million grant from the Ford Foundation, led by former Ford Program Officer Elizabeth Theobald Richards (Cherokee), NACF is dedicated to promoting the revitalization, appreciation and perpetuation of Native arts and cultures.

"The goal is to create a collective movement, a state of mind, and a public understanding that the future can be created, not simply experienced," explains NACF President and CEO Lulani Arquette (Native Hawaiian). "We seek a civil process that respects other people's work for a common good, a disciplined, vigorous routine combined with creative freedom."

Specifically, NACF is providing grants to Native arts organizations and Native artists through fellowships. Its first round of grants, totaling $394,000, was awarded in 2010, and this fall it will roll out its second batch. The group has cast an extremely wide and ambitious net, funding a diverse range of local, regional and national endeavors from individual artists to community-wide groups, from dance and film programs to weavers on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

"Launching in 2009 in the middle of a recession was a huge challenge and accomplishment," notes Arquette. "We had good success with raising funds for programs and operations, but the endowment has gone forward a bit slower than we anticipated. To address that, we are starting an annual giving campaign and creating an individual donor base. Our early hope of seeing lots of tribes come forward in large numbers to support what we do is taking us longer than anticipated. It just takes time to develop those relationships."

People's Wetu Project, New England Foundation For The Arts Native Arts Program, A Native Arts And Cultures Foundation 2010 Grantee (Courtesy Native Arts And Cultures Foundation)Several tribes, however, have come on board, pledging millions of dollars--in particular the Wiyot Tribe and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of California, whose chairman, Marshall McKay (see "Collections," July/Aug. 2010 issue) is NACF's board president.

Getting other national foundations behind the organization is another key ongoing effort. "For the Ford Foundation to have stepped up with $10 million says a lot and provides a lot of impetus for us to negotiate with other foundations," says Arquette. The Rasmuson Foundation of Alaska is providing assistance, as are regional foundations in the Portland, Oregon area, home base of NACF. "There are some that are waiting and watching, to see if we are stable and are going to be around."

Arquette's own multi-ethnic, artsoriented background provides almost the perfect foundation for the organization. Her Hawaiian grandmother was an accomplished musician, composer and singer. She obtained a degree in drama and theater, performing in many plays and on television (including Magnum, P.I.). Then she was drawn to the Native Hawaiian rights movement and earned a degree in political science, spending 25 years running nonprofit organizations and a few businesses.

In November, NACF will convene arts and cultural leaders from a wide range of disciplines in Portland to discuss the status of Native arts and issues facing the field. Arquette says, "We feel there is a real need to bring Native artists, culture bearers and arts leaders together to talk, to create together, and to engage with master artists. We recognize the challenges, but we are spiritual beings having a human experience. It is vital that we stay connected to one another, and the arts play a huge role in that."

For details on NACF's grants, fellowships, events and programs, visit or call 360/718-2553.

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