Why is New England Foundation for the Arts Closing its Native Arts Program?

It’s usually a good sign when a program you helped incubate grows strong enough to stand on its own. And that’s exactly what’s happening to the New England Foundation for the Arts’ Native Arts program.

Since 2007, the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), with lead funding from the Ford Foundation, has worked to increase the visibility and sustainability of Native artists and art forms. In that short time, the foundation has awarded 131 grants totalling more than $350,000 to 74 artists and nine organizations representing more than 35 tribes.

Among its notable successes, the foundation produced the groundbreaking Native New England Now exhibit and created a directory of Native American arts for both artists and organizations. Now, after seven years, the foundation has announced that its last round of grants will support the planning and formation of a Native-led consortium that will direct and support Native arts in New England.

“NEFA’s Native Arts program was designed with participation by the region’s Native American leaders in 2005 and 2006,” said NEFA board chair Larry Simpson. “It is our belief that a consortium of Native-led organizations will be better positioned to support the field, leverage resources, and continue the important work the program has done since 2007.” 

Under the guidance of Native staff and advisors, NEFA's Native Arts program has supported projects that nurture artistic exchange, community development, youth engagement, environmental resource research and preservation, cultural preservation, and artistic innovation. The new consortium, which will be led by NEFA Native Arts program manager Dawn Spears, is now set to begin a six-to-eight month planning process.

Those five grantees that will receive $3,000 each and lead the planning process are:

  • Aquinnah Cultural Center (ACC) - Aquinnah, MA

  • Gedakina - offices in VT, MA, and ME

  • Maine Indian Basketmakers Association (MIBA) - Old Town, ME

  • Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (MPMRC) - Mashantucket, CT

  • TomaquagIndian Museum - Exeter, RI

“I have been involved in this program on many levels: from the early planning gatherings in 2005, to participation at the board and advisory level, and even as a grantee and program participant,” said Theresa Secord (Penobscot) of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance. “It is inspiring to see the program’s efforts continue through the possibility of a new consortium.”

But the NEFA isn’t abandoning Native American artists. The foundation will continue support Native artists through additional programs and services.