First Peoples Fund a national non-profit organization founded in 1995, honors and supports Native artists and culture bearers who are vital in nurturing culturally informed, locally-led community development that enhances tribal economies, guides cultural healing, creates positive narratives and contributes to the rich cultural fabric of vibrant Native communities and the entire Indigenous Arts Ecology.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, 97 percent of First Peoples Fund artists surveyed have reported income losses ranging from $150 to $35,000-plus.
For Native artists who have built their livelihoods on the art market trail, COVID-19 has put an unexpected and obtrusive road block in their path.
Of course there are opportunities to pivot — to transition to e-commerce and kickstart social media marketing campaigns, or leverage retail operators with pre-existing online marketplaces to promote their art, jewelry, rugs, pottery and wares.
But that shift is more easily touted than executed by artists who have succeeded for decades by kindling relationships with buyers, and perhaps accepting cash rather than using payment processing systems like Square.
Many of these brilliant Native artists and dedicated artisans entrepreneurs are facing sudden and drastic income cuts — a reality that can feel destabilizing and disconcerting.
Enter First Peoples Fund (FPF). The organization has established a Resilience Fund to provide critical support to Native artists who have experienced such a loss of income.
With initial funding from key foundation partners, First Peoples Fund has awarded more than 100 artists and culture bearers in 24 states — from Alaska to Hawaii to throughout the lower 48 — with up to $1,000 in emergency relief funding to help with their housing, food, medical and care-taking expenses.
The Resilience Fund is currently focused on the 350 artists and culture bearers who are already affiliated with the national organization — Community Spirit Awards honorees, Artist in Business Leadership, Cultural Capital and Emerging Poets fellows, Rolling Rez Arts instructors, Native Artist Professional Development artist trainers, and community partners through its Indigenous Arts Ecology and Our Nations’ Spaces initiatives.
Since the pandemic hit the U.S. earlier this spring, cancellations of performances, art markets, cultural gatherings, workshops, speaking engagements, etc. have resulted in 97 percent of First Peoples Fund artists surveyed reporting income losses ranging from $150 to $35,000-plus. Performance artists have been hardest hit and impacts have been swift, completely wiping out most income sources. Visual artists are experiencing a drop in demand from direct sales, as well as wholesale purchases from gift shops and the like. As spring and summer markets cancel or postpone, they will experience even more significant losses. For example, nearly 100 of FPF artists rely on Santa Fe Indian Market, the largest in the country, for a significant amount of their annual income. Just last month, the market, usually held in August, was cancelled.
Beyond providing monetary support, First Peoples Fund continues to fulfill its work of providing workshops and training, convenings and network building — working closely with its artists and instructors to pivot and adapt its delivery of services and programs to the challenging times. The Native Artist Professional Development group is launching a series of Resilience webinars this week to help artists adjust their way of conducting business during the pandemic. Rolling Rez Arts will be hosting Facebook Live arts demonstrations, and Fellowships are facilitating virtual gatherings, as well as providing outreach and technical support where needed. Through social media, First Peoples Fund is also helping to promote the creative offerings FPF artists are delivering online — live storytelling and performances, instructional videos, etc.
“We are working hard to raise more funding for the Resilience Fund so that we can provide additional emergency relief in the coming weeks and months,” says First Peoples Fund President Lori Lea Pourier (Lakota). “The impact of COVID-19 is going to have a lasting effect on the world and our communities. First Peoples Fund wants to make sure we are a steadfast source of support to our Native artist and culture bearer community. They are critical to linking our past, present and future. We are resilient peoples, because we have a long history of working together and always lending a hand of generosity.”
To make a contribution to the First Peoples Fund Resilience Fund, visit the giving page.