Mar 24, 2023

Preparing for Planting Season: A Look into the Pathways Program | THE ARTSPACE QUARTERLY

Lake and mountains of the Northeast Coast




During the darkness of winter, it can be difficult to imagine that springtime is near. Though most have been immersed in hunkering down, the winds have changed and it is time to emerge, time to celebrate, and time to prepare for the upcoming seasons. In many ways, the work of the inaugural Pathways cohort aligns with the progression of the seasons. The eight organizations of this cohort have been spending their first few winter months together learning about each other and the process they are embarking on in preparation for the work they are about to do.


Much of the more visible, tangible work related to real estate development will occur later in the process; at present, the “planting” is about to happen. This work, aimed at setting the stage for later success, is largely focused on community engagement, project management tools, and cultural asset mapping. Subsequent sessions, throughout the spring and summer, will focus on project concept, location and cost analysis, and fundraising.



Close up of grassy plains  


A Native Space Initiative

Launched in late 2022, Pathways is a pilot program designed to support Native artists and arts organizations access and develop art and cultural space within their communities. Pathways aims to help advance arts and cultural spaces – infrastructure critical to sustaining Indigenous artistic and cultural heritage – by sharing Artspace’s nearly half a century of experience as a real estate developer for the creative sector. 


Sharing best practices has become a hallmark of the organization through various Artspace programs. However, Pathways is tailored specifically to the Native community and focuses strongly on cultural values. The Pathways Planning and Development Tool explores seven key areas of learning: project management, cultivating relationships, project concept, location, cost analysis, communication, and raising capital – and examines each through four perspectives central to the Native community: leadership, process, relationships, and visibility.


The Pathways cohort consists of 8 Native organizations as close as Artspace’s own backyard in Minneapolis, MN to places as distant as Terrace, British Columbia from both rural and urban areas. Since the program began, five virtual sessions have been held. A portion of these sessions has been dedicated to laying the groundwork for successful remote learning. Pathways is using the online platform Howspace for its meetings. A challenge with the virtual environment is that some of the organic interactions that are commonplace with in-person gatherings – which can be quite impactful – are often absent. To enhance the remote learning experience and encourage more of those interactions among cohort members, Pathways is incorporating a community symbol exercise in each of its sessions. This exercise, in which cohort members introduce themselves and a symbol important to their organizations and meaningful to the work they do, is meant to shine a light on the values that each hold dear and provide more insight and opportunity for connection among the cohort members.  


A crucial element in helping to achieve this inclusive and supporting environment is the work of the program liaisons. Ron Martinez Looking Elk (Isleta and Taos Pueblos) and Cecily Engelhart (Ihanktonwan Dakota & Oglala Lakota) assist with the development and delivery of the curriculum and play a significant role in facilitating cohort meetings and the one-on-one coaching sessions. They also, perhaps most importantly, help to facilitate the types of social interactions that can be just as impactful to cohort members as the curriculum itself – those small, but meaningful moments, when a lightbulb switches on or a connection is made. 


As Cecily noted, “I felt compelled to be a part of the Pathways program because I know the many roles art plays within our communities. It is an expression of our cultures, a way of healing, a way of processing grief, a way of building community, and a way to know oneself better. Increasing opportunities for art to flourish in our communities is also increasing opportunities for our communities to flourish. I see Pathways as a catalyst for the already incredible work happening at our eight sites and can't wait to see what the future holds for each of them.” 



Ogalala Lakota Artspace

Oglala Lakota Artspace  


Digging Deeper

This spring, the cohort will continue to develop the skills necessary for approaching their space planning processes. They will have the opportunity to learn from three Native organizations who have already successfully completed space-related projects. First Peoples Fund, Lakota Funds, and Artspace will present the Oglala Lakota Artspace and Cheyenne River Youth Project will present the Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Institute & Art Park. The cohort will then dive more deeply into their own projects, examining project concepts, cost analyses, location options, communications, and fundraising. The goal is to provide cohort members with the tools they need to attain the spaces requisite to their mission so that with each season, their good work can grow. 


As Ron Martinez Looking Elk wrote, “[Pathways] reaffirms Indigenous ancient economies and core values in a modern context. It allows the cohort to have a greater impact in delivering their vision and mission to our tribal peoples. Indigenous thought and identity is based on our place within seasonal renewal. Pathways is planting new seeds that many generations of future artists will benefit from."



Special Acknowledgement

The influence that First Peoples Fund and Lakota Funds have had on Artspace has been instrumental in its work with diverse Native American organizations and Native communities looking for assistance with their space goals. Artspace recognizes First Peoples Fund and Lakota Funds as thought leaders in creating social and economic change by putting artists and culture bearers at the center of community development. It is with deep gratitude to First Peoples Fund and Lakota Funds that Artspace has been welcomed into this inspiring work in honoring the Collective Spirit © of the First Peoples of this nation.



This piece was written by Alyssa Kelley, Program Assistant for Pathways: A Native Space Initiative.