OPINION: Cherokee Artist Recovery Act: A “New Deal” for Cherokee Creativity | Opinion

In 1935, the United States was still struggling with the Great Depression. Millions of people have felt the impact of the economic crisis, including the country’s artists.

In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt included a number of artist relief programs as part of his larger New Deal program. Like much of the country during the Great Depression, artists suffered from difficult economic conditions. “Artists,” said one of President Roosevelt’s advisers, “must eat too.”

The largest and most enduring of these programs was the Federal Art Project, which was part of the Works Progress Administration. During its operation from 1935 to 1943, the Federal Art Project put thousands of artists to work creating in a hopeless country. The project has produced over 150,000 works of art, from paintings to sculptures, murals to posters.

New Deal-era arts programs revitalized the arts community across the United States and spawned a new generation of talented American artists. Established artists and young rising stars created works of art that reflected the hopes, concerns and aspirations of the nation in a way that endures to this day. Art funded by the New Deal can be found across the country. These works of art always inspire.

Today, we are on the heels of an economic and public health crisis that, while far removed from the Great Depression, has affected Cherokees near and far and in all walks of life. Throughout the pandemic, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, the Council of the Cherokee Nation and I have developed a number of relief programs, with over $750,000,000 in direct cash assistance provided to Cherokee citizens.

This week, inspired by the New Deal-era Federal Art Project, Deputy Chief Warner and I proposed to the Board the Cherokee Artist Recovery Act (ARA). After three years that have seen the closure of art galleries, the postponement of art classes, the virtualization of art markets and the decrease in the purchasing power of patrons, Cherokee artists deserve a boost.

If approved, the ARA will inject $3 million into the Cherokee arts community over the next three years. We will spend at least $1.5 million to purchase artwork from Cherokee artists. Funds are also available by law to make improvements to our existing art facilities. The proposed act provides funding for teaching Cherokee art, so that our great artists can earn money by teaching and inspiring a new generation of Cherokee artists to follow in their footsteps.

The law goes even further. To help artists regain a foothold in the economy, the law commits funds for a range of assistance, including assistance with marketing and travel to art markets. The act will also establish the Cherokee Artist Resource database, a comprehensive listing of all known Cherokee artists. The database can serve as both a marketing resource and a means of preserving artist information for posterity.

As part of the ARA, we can support a wide range of art forms. The bill defines “art” broadly, covering any “citizen of the Cherokee Nation” engaged in “any of the various creative arts.” We must, as much as possible, encourage the artistic creativity of as many Cherokees as possible, without barriers.

I intend to turn the administration of the Artist Recovery Act over to our cultural tourism department. It is the group of talented men and women who design and manage our great existing museums, art exhibitions and other artistic programs. If approved, this new $3 million initiative will add to the millions we already invest each year to support Cherokee artists, purchase their art, and share their incredible creativity with the world.

I hope the proposed ARA will achieve several important goals. First, I hope this helps Cherokee artists regain what they have lost economically due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, I hope the arts literacy component of the law will inspire Cherokee creativity, especially in a new generation of young Cherokees seeking to make a positive artistic impact on the world – and earn a living doing it.

Finally, I hope the ARA will foster the collective efforts of Cherokee artists to preserve and revitalize what it means to be Cherokee. From time immemorial, the artistic expression of the Cherokees has reflected who we are as a distinct people, our connection to the spiritual world, our deepest concerns and our highest aspirations. To ensure that Cherokee culture remains strong and vibrant into the future, we must support our artists today. I believe the Artist Recovery Act will do just that.

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