RAPID CITY, SD — The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, and artists in particular are having to pivot. To help Native American artists address the new challenges, First Peoples Fund is making adaptations to a longstanding training program that has empowered artists to become entrepreneurs — with agility being the new focus
To help artists become independent business owners, First Peoples Fund created the Native American Professional Development (NAPD) program in 2008. The NAPD workshops provide indigenous artists with the knowledge and tools to successfully establish themselves as independent entrepreneurs. The two-day development sessions hosted in communities throughout the lower 48 states, Alaska and Hawaii are typically led by both an artist and a business expert. Throughout the two days, trainers work to ensure that the participants are equipped to express their artistic vision, as well as manage an independent business.
The workshop first establishes each artist’s familiarity with marketing, business and financial management, essential skills for an entrepreneur. By reinforcing and teaching artists how to market, budget, and establish prices for their business, the workshops create a strong foundation. Becoming a self-sufficient independent artist is not an easy task, and the guidance from experienced instructors can often be the encouragement that drives an artist forward.
“We’re coming to them with content with an indigenous lens for them to become stronger entrepreneurs in a Western world, while still holding on to their values and vision,” said Hillary Presecan, Program Manager of Community Development for First Peoples Fund.
Trainers make sure to drive home the importance of preserving an artist’s values and vision as they make a business of their artwork. Certified NAPD trainer Roxanne Best this is one of the most important and difficult things for an artist to come to terms with.
“If you are going to sell something that you created from your heritage and then profit from it,” Best says, “you need to find your space to be okay with that.”
The discussions about an artist’s values and vision is made easier by the fact that the artist instructing the NAPD has gone through that struggle themselves, and can help each artist determine their own values before they begin laying the groundwork for their business.
“The one-on-one time with our trainers is a big highlight for people because our trainers really connect on a personal level and a professional level with the communities they go into,” said Presecan. “When we go into a community, we’re thinking of building lifelong partnerships, connecting them to other programming, and being a resource even after we leave those tribal communities. They can reach out to us and we can be there for them.”
First Peoples Fund believes that independent artists are important for communities. An artist’s creativity and vision can help bring about positive change and encourage community members to unite. When FPF was founded in 1995 it had one goal in mind: support independent Native American artists.
While First Peoples Fund is based in Rapid City, its NAPD program has helped hundreds of artists around the country — in 2019 alone they organized 31 in-person NAPD sessions, with a total of 322 attending artists. But during the pandemic, FPF has had to adjust and adapt in order to continue serving indigenous communities.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic FPF has postponed in-person NAPDs indefinitely. However, this has not stopped them from still reaching the artists and their communities. Trainers have started teaching through the online Resiliency Webinar Series. During these live webinars, trainers have presented on a variety of the topics including the standard NAPD subjects or those that focus on adjusting to the current and rapidly changing times such as ”The Values of Values for First Peoples Artists,” “Keeping Your Vision Central to Your Art” “Marketing in the Midst of a Pandemic,” “Cultivating Your Online Presence During a Pandemic. Hundreds of people have viewed the first few webinar videos online, which can be watched on FPF’s Facebook page, and organizers say that artists are working hard to adapt in a time of social distancing.
Making the transition to an online platform is a challenge many are facing, and artists must find a way to express themselves online. “A lot of artists rely on their personalities,” said Best, but when an artist is unable to speak directly to a potential buyer, they have to learn how to use an online platform to represent themselves and give meaning to their artwork.
Best believes that people do not necessarily buy art simply because of the work itself, that the story behind the art and the story of the artist is just as important. Through the Resilience Webinar Series, Best passed on her expertise in the area of online marketing to help artists make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of us have learned that transitioning online is no easy task and it often feels like life is busier now than ever. For First Peoples Fund, this unique period has only served to strengthen their ability to reach out to indigenous artists. Moving forward, Hillary Presecan says that the webinars will be another tool for connecting to Indigenous communities nationwide, giving a glimpse of how the NAPDs empower artists and the communities they serve.