Q&A with Tara Lulani Arquette, President and CEO, Native Arts and Culture Foundation
What is the primary vision and mission of the Native Arts and Culture Foundation?
After decades of visioning with indigenous leaders, we are the first permanently endowed national philanthropic organization for native arts and cultures. Our primary mission revolves around revitalization, appreciation and perpetuation of native arts and cultures. Our vision is to be an asset and support system to native artists and communities for the next seven generations and perpetuity.
What are some of the community needs that the foundation seeks to address?
We want to be communicators of hope, catalysts of change, and champions of creative potential. In our native communities across the nation, there’s still a lot of despair, poverty and hopelessness. Young people are faced with many social ills. These challenges pretty much resonate across all communities. Our elders are passing on. We want to ensure that the knowledge and values, our world view, and artistic practices are shared and passed to succeeding generations. We feel that is the foundation underlying who we are as native peoples. It also weaves the importance of land and environmental stewardship. Passing on our values as a community also affects how we address economic development issues in native or tribal lands. We want to encourage people to think creatively and to help shed light on these issues through artistic expression.
In many ethnic, indigenous and communities of color, there is a holistic view of all these issues. I can speak from a Native Hawaiian perspective: we don’t look at social issues as separate. The values of taking care of everything around you, taking only what you need, and taking care of your body – these were all core to the health and strength of our cultures. But as native peoples, we have moved far away from these values, in some respects. Our purpose as a foundation is to help inspire and instill some of that knowledge through the arts.
What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of?
Taking the vision of those who came before me and building the organization to an "on-the-ground" reality. In less than a year, we have offices, staff, and a strategic plan. We have launched our grant-making program and awarded funds. The board looked at a number of different cities across the nation and narrowed the pool to about five cities. They looked at a number of criteria which included practical considerations such as cost of living and proximity to an airport hub. But more importantly, they wanted the foundation to be close to a vibrant native arts community – and there are extensive native communities in Washington, Oregon and California.
What do you consider as the most challenging aspect of your work?
I feel pretty blessed and honored to be part of the organization at this stage in its development. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get the work done – which is to be expected from any startup. We have a lot going on: capacity-building, board development, growing the endowment, and grantmaking.
What are some of the most misunderstood aspects about native communities?
I think one of the most misunderstood aspects about the culture is the myth of a monolithic Native community. Native communities are all diverse and unique. We have more than 560 Native American tribes, over 200 Alaska Native villages, and Native Hawaiian communities on six different islands. Each community has different issues.
The one commonality we all share is that we are the “First Peoples” in all the lands that we encompass. That is the root force that binds us together. In almost every instance, our connection to the land is critical for all of us – whether we’re gathering materials for arts or building a business or cultural center. The land is who we are.
How does your cultural background impact the way you lead the organization?
I think in Hawai’i, people take time to develop relationships, to really get to know each other. Time seems to be at a slower pace, and local values are allowed to permeate. People take the time to help out a neighbor, or “talk story”.
There are also two Hawaiian values that inform my leadership. “Hoomau” which means persevere, persist and drive forward, and the value of “nalu,” which generally means to ride the wave, go with the flow, and let others step ahead. The lesson is that as a leader, you don’t always have to be the one driving the process. My leadership style is really about balancing those values, and creating “lokahi,” which means balance and harmony.
What’s on your wish list?
What I enjoy the most is working to inspire creative potential, and knowing that our work impacts Native communities. Everything is about design and creativity. I envision a project with numerous partners that would involve artists of Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native and Native American heritage, that would gain international recognition. In 20 years, we’d like to grow our endowment to $50 million.
If I was queen for a day, I would want our Native peoples to be happy, healthy and prosperous. Through the foundation, the way we work toward that goal, is inspiring change through the arts. The arts have a way of touching people’s hearts, motivating and inspiring. Whether it’s performing arts, literature, visual works, film or digital media – it has the ability to affect us in such a deep way and open up new channels of awareness. With awareness comes greater understanding, and that often leads to change.
Colors of Influence :: Summer 2010