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The ANA Messenger: The Economic Development Issue

Winter 2012

Published: March 8, 2013
Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS), All

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Northwoods NiiJii Enterprise Community, Inc. Native Arts Initiative

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This is a three year project to implement a sustainable multi-purpose Native Arts Initiative through the preservation of traditional native arts and development of an entrepreneurial creative culture.

A miniture canoe crafted as an ornament Man selling crafts at an outdoor market held in a wooded area


Key Project Staff

The project is staffed by Patricia O’Neil, Executive Director, and Cari Chapman, Woodland Indian Art Center Manager.

BeginningsGirl painting on a mural

For many years the communities of the Lac du Flambeau Band, the Menominee Indian Tribe, and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community have produced Woodland Arts and Crafts and at some times in the past these have been economic drivers. Prior to the start of the project, however, practices had fallen off, entrepreneurs were few, and the knowledge and skill of producing many traditional products was becoming extinct. In a series of community meetings over several years, tribal members called for a rejuvenation of these skills through training and transmission and were anxious to rebuild an economy around their assets.

Tribal members and culture bearers were instrumental in the development of the project. Through community talking circles a consensus was established for the direction of the project, and a cultural oversight committee was formed.

Project Impact

The project area covers the Northwoods of Wisconsin with focus on our tribal partners: Lac du Flambeau Band, the Menominee Indian Tribe, and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, but also including others such as the Oneida Tribe and Red Cliff Band.

Individual artists are gaining skill in their trades, and preserving and transmitting these skills to others. Individual artists are learning entrepreneurial and leadership skills as well, helping them sustain their practices economically. This has resulted in individual artists enjoying expanded opportunities to teach and sell their work.

Art organizations are also being supported through training and technical assistance in areas such as leadership development, organizational development, and fund development, to expand both supply and demand for arts in the Northwoods and to support creation of an art industry as an economic driver for art tourism.

Group picture

The Woodland Indian Arts Initiative has built solid relationships with funders in the Arts realm and staff looks forward to continued financial support. Because the initiative generates program revenues through training and sales, it remains partially self-funded. Currently, project staff is involved in the planning of a new $1.3 million Living Arts and Cultural Facility in Lac du Flambeau, which will expand audience and tourism draw.

Our advice to future grantees with similar projects

Working with artists can be like herding cats, however, building a program around their input and the vision of the tribal community is vital to project success.

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Last Reviewed: November 22, 2016