Select Page

American Indian Artists in Recovery: The Socioeconomic and Religious Issues Surrounding Art and Addiction
January 29–February 1, 2007

For many Native American artists struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, recovery is complicated by a long-standing constellation of social, political, religious, and economic problems that have challenged indigenous communities for generations. Any one of these issues—multicultural conflict, post-traumatic stress, low self-esteem, and a history of oppression, to name just a few—would place a person at risk for substance abuse. At this groundbreaking seminar, developed by Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) director Kathy Whitaker, 10 Native artists came together to explore the journey from substance abuse to recovery from addiction and its relationship to both creative processes and broader indigenous issues.

Co-chairs Michael Kabotie (Hopi) and Sam English (Anishinaabe) identified several themes for the seminar discussions, including creativity, spirituality, fears, self-destructive behaviors, and, particularly, the way substance abusers, both individually and collectively, formulate positive responses to the problems of addictive behaviors. Against the broad social, economic, and political forces involved in substance abuse, these themes served as conceptual guideposts as the participants enriched their spirited dialogue with sketching, painting, and the sharing of personal experiences. “For this seminar, it was important that all participants be not only sober but in recovery,” said English. “It was important to have Indian artists carry a message of sobriety to the American Indian community.”

The group tackled many complex questions over the course of the week. What forces in one’s life experiences foster acquiescence—or resistance—to addiction? What is important in the act of creating, and why does such expression instill self-confidence, self-determination, and a desire to overcome social ills? Can art become free expression and resolution for the artist’s anger, guilt, shame, and other emotional releases, responses, and actions? Does creative action risk becoming part of the addictive behavior? Is a creative life a sacred life? If it is, then what happens when an artist becomes addicted? Do artists incorporate the sacred into their work when they are sober and the profane when they are not? These questions clearly involve multicultural issues that affect the substance abuser and his or her family, the tribal community, friends, and associates.

“These discussions and their results can only serve to enhance our lives today, our careers, our personalities, our families, and our communities. It has long been my vision that a center for healing through the performing arts be established for the several generations of Indian people who are going through the healing process that our medicine, spiritual, and elder people speak of,” said English. “This seminar is a first step for artists.”

Sponsored by The Annenberg Foundation


Sam English, Facilitator

Michael Kabotie, Facilitator

Paul K. Conner

Dennis Esquivel

Cliff Fragua
Jemez Pueblo

Laura Gachupin
Jemez Pueblo

Yolanda Hart Stevens

Lorenzo Hogue

Steve LaBoueff

Kevin Pourier

Nelda Schrupp

Marketing Maria: Creating the Legacy
March 25–29, 2007

The San Ildefonso potter Maria Martinez became the embodiment of a larger tradition and cultural trend both within and outside her culture, through the efforts of many self-identified ethnographers and social scientists who marketed her and her artistry from 1904 through the 1950s and even later. Ignoring her entrepreneurial spirit and exceptional talent, “Maria’s ‘curators’ presented her as an effective and historically accurate model of how Pueblo women of the period should be perceived,” said IARC director Kathy Whitaker, who organized the short seminar Marketing Maria and an accompanying public forum. “Was she created as a curio for the curious? Did she become a human object displayed for the purpose of museum promotion by Edgar Lee Hewett, Kenneth Chapman, and others?” A group of six scholars and artists, including Barbara Gonzales and Cavan Gonzales—both descendants of Martinez’s and potters themselves—investigated her objectification as a “tool and model” for social, political, and economic recognition by Native and non-Native interests. They discussed why Martinez rose above the image of “featured museum display,” how the politics of culture were involved in the creation of her public identity, and the political and social ramifications of Martinez’s unusual celebrity for her culture, family, and promoters.


Kathy Whitaker, Facilitator
Director, Indian Arts Research Center, SAR

Bruce Bernstein
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Anthropology

Erika Bsumek
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Texas, Austin

Catherine Cocks
Co-Editor, SAR Press

Barbara Gonzales
San Ildefonso

Cavan Gonzales
San Ildefonso

Nancy J. Parezo
American Indian Studies, University of Arizona

Kathy Sanchez
San Ildefonso

Art, Gender, and Community
November 15–16, 2007

The Art, Gender, and Community seminar brought together 11 Native women artists in various points of their careers to discuss their own work, issues relating to women in the arts, and the future of Native American art. The seminar culminated in a panel discussion, one-day exhibition, and book.

In November 2007, six preeminent Native women artists met to discuss the meaning of art, gender, and community for Native women and how these three issues intertwine and impact their own work. Gloria Emerson, Diane Reyna, Eliza Naranjo-Morse, Sherry Farrell Racette, Felice Lucero, and Erica Lord were in attendance.

This first session led to a second session in February 2008, in which each of the original six brought another Native woman artist with them. Lara Evans, TahNibaa Naataanii, Heidi Brandow, Shannon Letandre, and Dyani Reynolds-Whitehawk joined the mix to create a group of 11 remarkable artists. While the original six made presentations about work they had begun that was inspired by the first session, the group as a whole discussed their personal histories and furthered discussions about issues affecting Native women today.

In June 2008, these 11 artists reconvened for the last time at the Indian Arts Research Center to present their completed works. This final meeting resulted in a one-day exhibition titled, Playing, Remembering, Making: Art in Native Women’s Lives as well as two panel discussions examining art, gender, and community.

This meeting of minds and creativity created a safe space for Native women to freely discuss concerns, joys, and controversial issues that affect their lives and their communities. The Indian Arts Research Center looks forward to the publication documenting the extraordinary results of this seminar in the near future.


Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Facilitator
IARC Director, School for Advanced Research

Heidi Brandow
Gloria Emerson
Lara Evans
Shannon Letandre
Erica Lord
Felice Lucero
TahNibaa Naat’aanii
Eliza Naranjo Morse
Sherry Farrell Racette
Diane Reyna
Dyani Reynolds-Whitehawk

Art, Gender and Community participants