Tacoma, WA – It is the fifteenth anniversary of Washington State Historical Society’s annual juried exhibition, IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts. After months of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to collectively appreciate the contributions of these artists is particularly meaningful, beginning in the virtual realm as the exhibition opens online this Thursday, July 16, 2020.
Washington State History Museum hopes to install the exhibition in their galleries later this summer when museums are allowed to reopen during Phase 3 of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start program. The exhibition’s 24 works by 20 artists range from whimsical to poignant and will lift your spirits.
Each iteration of IN THE SPIRIT is different, yet you’ll recognize some of the 2020 artists, including Peter Boome, Denise Emerson, RYAN! Feddersen, Dan Friday, Lily Hope, Linley Logan, Jeffrey Veregge, Matika Wilbur and George Zantua. In their textiles, paintings, basketry, photography, sculptures and carvings, the artists used a wide array of materials including glass, beads, wool, ultrasuede, woods and grasses, horsehair, hooves, shells, paint, metal and others.
The past often weaves with the present and cultural traditions blend with contemporary practices, as in the glass totems created by artist Dan Friday (Lummi). “Grandpa Joe’s (Joseph Hillaire) Totem poles were different, and very contemporary at their time, he had his own style. In a time when many Native peoples were isolated and adapting to their rapidly changing surroundings, grandpa, with his stories and Totem poles, shared the ways of the Lummi, and Coast Salish people,” Friday said in his artist statement. “The stories and lines in my Totems are subtle. I often look to personal experience and expression for the themes. I am grateful for my grandfather and his modern approach, it empowers me as I find my way. Our work is different, but a common message is that ‘we are still here’.”
Each year a jury reviews artists’ submissions for the exhibition. Working remotely this time, the 2020 jury included Todd Clark (Wailaki), founder and curator of IMNDN, a non-profit organization advocating for contemporary Native art and artists, and program manager at the University of Washington’s Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies; Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Zuni/Tlingit), an independent curator and Assistant Professor of North American Indigenous Knowledge at the University of Washington’s iSchool; and Charles W Bloomfield (Pyramid Lake Paiute), who has won awards for his works in previous iterations of IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts, and has been a participating artist in the IN THE SPIRIT Northwest Native Festival and Arts Market.
“During these troubled times it would be easy to dismiss art as non-essential, and to an extent this is understandable. But then again if life imitates art, perhaps art can help lift us and point us to a better future? For me the arts do just that and exhibitions such as IN THE SPIRIT play a major role in grounding me, connecting me with my Native heritage and instilling hope,” shared lead juror Todd Clark. “It was contemporary Native artists who first showed me what it looked like to be Native and living in the 21st century, where we retained our past, heritage and culture and yet thrived in the modern world. This is the power of art to me.”
IN THE SPIRIT began as a collaboration between The Longhouse Education & Cultural Center at The Evergreen State College and Washington State Historical Society. The two institutions were working together on another project when the idea for a cultural celebration took hold, and the first IN THE SPIRIT arts market and festival was held in July 2006. The partnership continued for eight years as the event expanded. In 2014, The Longhouse stepped away as a partner to concentrate on a range of initiatives for Indigenous artists across the western hemisphere, as well as growing the capacity at the Evergreen campus.
Building on the success of the annual exhibition and festival, WSHS began collaborating with other museums in the Tacoma Museum District. In 2017, the Tacoma Art Museum joined as an IN THE SPIRIT partner, hosting related exhibitions, public art-making opportunities, and adding a highly anticipated fashion show with Indigenous designers and models. In 2019, the Museum of Glass joined, featuring outstanding Native artists demonstrating glassblowing and offering an artist panel discussion.
“The three museums have worked together to grow the festival to celebrate emergent Native artists as well as the Indigenous cultures present in the Northwest through dance, music, food, fashion, art-making, an artist’s market and more. It is a lively indoor-outdoor event and our museums are free for the day,” said Molly Wilmoth, the History Museum’s lead programs manager. “It draws thousands of people each year. So with the pandemic, we have expanded our advisory committee. They will help guide us in creating a virtual festival and arts market that will offer access to inspiring artists and educate patrons about contemporary Native arts.”
The beloved IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts exhibition with the Northwest Native Festival and Arts Market embody WSHS’s mission of partnering with our communities to explore how history connects us all. IN THE SPIRIT is supported in part by the Tacoma Arts Commission, South Sound Magazine, The Norcliffe Foundation, and Humanities Washington. Find out more at InTheSpiritArts.org.