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Guest Post: Decolonizing Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, March 26th, 2019 at 2:42 pm in News

By Asia Freeman
Artistic Director, Bunnell Street Arts Center  

Emily Johnson is part of a brave new generation of artists that is leading Alaska’s cultural sector to become adaptive and resilient. Photo from her work “THE THANK-YOU BAR.”

Emily Johnson returns home to Alaska every year to spend time with her family during traditional times of subsistence harvest. During her stay, the Yup’ik artist makes time to share and collect stories that shape her work as a dancer, storyteller and Artistic Director of Catalyst. Here, at Bunnell Street Arts Center, she’s found a place where people have gathered for decades. Long before this was an arts center, it was a general store at the end of the road to the west.

Johnson is part of a brave new generation of artists that is leading Alaska’s cultural sector to become adaptive and resilient, placing equity alongside excellence through inspired, decolonizing approaches that force us to evolve. Their artistic works reflect deeper truths about who we are and how we support each other—in ways both necessary and challenging, Alaskans are shaped and forged by our environment, our shared history and each other.

Incubator of Alaska’s artistic innovators, Bunnell’s mission is to nurture and present innovative art of exceptional quality for diverse audiences. Through exhibitions, educational and touring programs, artists in residence and artists in schools Bunnell aims to reflect and connect diverse and disparate communities. Conversations, workshops and projects help Alaskans cultivate our identities and strengthen creative visions.  Due to geographic and cultural isolation we have few opportunities to access educational art experiences that truly reflect Alaska’s racial and cultural diversity. This arts center has been a powerful force in shaping and connecting Alaska’s cultural landscape for twenty seven years.

Revering this land and its stories has shaped and transformed me and my work as a curator at Bunnell Street Arts Center. Here, we examine, engage, challenge, and celebrate Alaska’s artistic resources, questions and opportunities. Today, on the leading edge of climate change, Alaskans adapt to survive. In ways both necessary and challenging, we are shaped and forged by our environment and each other.  For Bunnell, and for myself, a process of self-definition and transformation is happening in tandem with the decolonizing methods of the artists we present.

‘The history we always knew’

Bunnell Street Arts Center is located by a place called Bishop’s Beach, situated on the borderland of the Kenai River’s Dena’ina and the Sugpiaq, who are based across Kachemak Bay.

Bunnell is located by a place called Bishop’s Beach by the homesteaders, fox farmers and fisherman who began settling this area about 100 years ago. It’s situated on the borderland of the Kenai River’s Dena’ina and the Sugpiaq (Russian colonizers called them Alutiiq), who are based across Kachemak Bay. Here, an abundance of sea life has sustained rich cultures and attracted many pioneers.

In 1937, Maybelle and Arthur Berry erected the Inlet Trading Post, now home to Bunnell Street Arts Center, to serve these newcomers. The Inlet Trading Post was a kit general store, milled in Washington and unloaded on the beach from a steamship, probably ordered from Sears and Roebuck. At 32 by 64 feet, stocked with can goods from floor to ceiling, it was Homer’s first “big box” store.

That was the history we always knew. But long before it was called Bishop’s Beach, the Dena’ina people named this place Tuggeght. We learned this name from Johnson when she was Artist in Residence in 2016. Her project SHORE: Homer at Tuggeght subtly sparked Bunnell’s efforts to place equity and inclusion alongside excellence in every aspect of what we do.

Survival stories

As part of presenting SHORE, Bunnell and Catalyst joined Woodard Creek Coalition, a cross-sector partnership of community organizations situated in the Woodard Creek watershed, which bisects our town from the mountainside behind us to the beach in front of us. The coalition was created with the intention of daylighting the paved-over creek to mark its presence through paint and dance.

This project invited community stories that revealed the critical, leading role that the arts have in uplifting the intrinsic, age-old and evolving histories of this place. Through storytelling, feasting and dance, Johnson’s act of land acknowledgment taught us that right hereas in many other placescolonizers erased and suppressed history by taking Indigenous land and announcing new names. Through Johnson’s work, the power of land acknowledgement flows like hidden rivers beneath our feet

Similarly, a play about this land has deeply affected how we tell our story. In 2017, Bunnell co-commissioned Ping Chong + Company to create ALAXSXA | ALASKA (uh-LUCK-shkuh), a theatrical piece that weaves puppetry, video, recorded interviews and yuraq (Yup’ik drum and dance) in a collage of striking contemporary and historical encounters between Alaska Native communities and newcomers in our state. Performers Ryan Conarro, Gary Upay’aq Beaver (Central Yup’ik) and puppeteer Justin Perkins reveal little-known histories—at times humorous, at times tragic—and juxtapose them against their own personal histories as “insider” and “outsider” in the Last Frontier.

ALAXSXA | ALASKA audiences experience intimate encounters with a multimedia performance as epic as the changing landscapes of Alaska. We reflect on dozens of stories that alternately illustrate and challenge our impressions of the Great Land. ALAXSXA | ALASKA acknowledges that this place is built of many stories, and the colonial narrative that begins with Russian conquest, or the sale of Alaska to the U.S., or Statehood, is as deeply ingrained as it is discriminatory, exclusive and privileged. For many, especially non-Native Alaskans, hearing stories of survival—from ice-fishing to snow machine repair at 40 below—reminds us that the accounts of those who have survived over 10,000 years are here for those who are paying attention, like vast landscapes under a blanket of snow.

The most powerful occasion of witnessing ALAXSXA | ALASKA’s impact was, for me, in the village of Nanwalek. This village is only 10 minutes away from my home by plane—just a hop, skip and a jump across Kachemak Bay, where I’ve lived most of my life. But I’d never been there. Maybe because it’s off the road system. ALAXSXA | ALASKA drew a packed audience at Nanwalek’s K-12 school. After viewing excerpts of the play with the entire village, Chief Kvasnikoff invited everyone to a talking circle, including very small children.

We heard many courageous and powerful survival stories from families that were fractured as kids were shipped off to boarding schools, where Native languages were violently suppressed, and the ensuing intergenerational trauma of alcoholism, shame and violence.  It reminded me that the arts are poised to help Americans experience truth and reconciliation if we care to pay attention.

“Decolonization begins in how we meet each other,” Conarro said, “how we tell our stories.”

Challenging the narrative

The experience of presenting ALAXSXA | ALASKA and witnessing its effect on audiences and communities has shown me that Alaskans are ready to push away from the Great White Narrative toward truer stories. From a Creation Residency to two tours of Alaska (2017 and 2018), the piece has been game-changer, inspiring teachers, health-care providers, tribal leaders and youth to share their personal stories and challenge the narrative of Alaska that is taught in our schools.

Visual artists are taking up the cause, too. As the world’s attention shifts to the shrinking polar ice cap and the future of our planet, Alaska’s place in the world has moved from the fringe to the center. Widely considered a “resource state,” rich in extracts such as gold, fish, timber and oil, Alaska has been colonized for centuries by forces that divide and dominate this state’s identity.

Joel Isaak created a video installation, Łuqa’ ch’k’ezdelghayi “Visions of Summer,” in which his solo dance is projected on the back of a salmon skin screen.

Alaska’s art market has for decades reflected the colonization and repression that has defined the industrialization of Alaska—a stereotypical idea of Alaska featuring dog sleds and “Eskimos,” igloos and objects of native iconography often reproduced abroad. In reality, Alaska artists present expansive ideas of Alaskan culture and people in art that explores both endangered traditions and new constructs of identity. Alaska’s artists propose a confluence of indigenous and global materials, expanding and redefining the roles of tradition and technology to explore difficult territories and express new ways of being.

“I live a mixture of Western and indigenous culture,” Joel Isaak (Dena’ina – Kenai, Alaska) said. “I explore the freedom to exchange information and experiences. Decolonizing means embracing cultural reciprocity and working toward universal acceptance of human beings.

Isaak created a video installation, Łuqa’ ch’k’ezdelghayi “Visions of Summer,” in which his solo dance is projected on the back of a salmon skin screen. The installation is one of 31 artworks featured in Decolonizing Alaska, an exhibit produced by Bunnell that toured Alaska for three years and travelled to Washington D.C. In it, Alaska’s artists have been challenged and changed by the question: “How should we tell the stories of colonization?”

Artists respond, surfacing themes ranging from intergenerational trauma to resource management, and how the history of Alaska is told in our schools.For this exhibit, we embraced the challenge, and didn’t leave it to Alaskan Native artists. As a curator and visual artist, my feeling is that limiting the conversation to Indigenous artists only perpetuates colonization. Decolonization requires the concerted efforts and profound participation of both the colonizer and the colonized.

Reshaping traditions

The shared innovations, unconventional materials and respectful inquiry of Alaska’s working artists is beginning to dismantle a hierarchy of colonization and usher in a new era. In Alaska’s diverse artistic production, we see artist’s conversations connecting vast geographic distances and cultural experiences.

“I struggle with how many people draw boundaries and create categories about what kind of people and what kind of artists we are,” filmmaker Michael Walsh (Homer, Alaska)  “I fear this perpetuates colonization.”

Walsh’s 35mm screen-printed film on celluloid celebrates the charismatic power of the Inupiaq woman rapper, AKU-MATU.  “White man suppressed this power when he colonized Alaska, creating false divisions. I hope these divisions will dissolve in the 21st century and the voices of today’s leaders will resonate with the wisdom of our Indigenous ancestors and hopeful humans of the future,” he says.

“In my painting, St. Katherine of Karluk, I replace the symbolic elements of a Russian Orthodox icon with those of the Alutiiq people,” Linda Infante Lyons said.

Artistic invention and imagination are reshaping traditions. New possibilities for cultural identity and sustainability are emerging in an environment of innovation. Linda Infante Lyons (Alutiiq – Anchorage) painted a portrait of her maternal grandmother from Kodiak Island in a bold, revisionist telling of history that elevates a new, powerful view of Indigenous women.

“Rediscovering culture and recovering lost religious icons are important steps in decolonization, “ Lyons said. “In my painting, St. Katherine of Karluk, I replace the symbolic elements of a Russian Orthodox icon with those of the Alutiiq people… I am a living example of the melding of two cultures, the native and the colonizer. In this effort to represent the decolonization of Alaska, I acknowledge the assimilated icons of the colonizer, yet bring forth, as equals, the spiritual symbols of my Native ancestors.”

I share these artists’ hopes that new images of power reflect deeper truths about who we are and how we support each other. May we heal centuries of racism, suppression and shaming. May new images of powerful Indigenous women infuse Alaska with resilience and respect.

Photos courtesy of Bunnell Street Arts Center. 

Asia Freeman was born in Mexico and raised in Alaska. After graduating from Homer High School she attended Yale College (BA, ‘91) and Vermont School of Fine Arts (MFA ‘97). Asia is a visual artist, an adjunct art instructor for the University of Alaska and a co-founder of Bunnell Street Arts Center, where she holds the position of Artistic Director.

LANE program launches new podcast

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2019 at 1:24 pm in News

Our LANE team has launched a podcast exploring practical tools and concepts designed to transform the arts and culture field toward equity and justice. In Episode 1 of “TACtile: A Practical Guide to Transforming Arts & Culture,” Alpha Cohort members share their stories of transformation in a session recorded at our 2018 NPN Conference in Pittsburgh.

Listen on iTunes 
Listen on Stitcher 
Listen on Spotify

What is LANE?
NPN recognizes that there are significant racial and geographic barriers to the organizational health of many of our Partners. Leveraging a Network for Equity (LANE) addresses this inequity by amplifying the leadership of organizations of color and rural organizations through a four-year journey that builds their capacity to thrive.

ALPHA Cohort: Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville, TN), Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas (Seattle, WA), Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana / MACLA (San Jose, CA), Myrna Loy Center (Helena, MT), Junebug Productions (New Orleans, LA), Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center (Denver, CO)



11 NPN artists awarded 2019 USA Fellowships

Posted: Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 at 3:15 pm in News

Above: Photo of Allison Akotchook Warden by Nicholas Galanin. Below: Photo of Alice Sheppard.

NPN celebrates the announcement of the 2019 United States Artists (“USA”) Fellows, including 11 NPN artists. The 45 selected artists and collectives span all disciplines. Each will receive $50,000 in unrestricted funding.

“Each Fellow is a reminder of the breadth of our cultural landscape, and the 2019 cohort is yet another testament to how much incredible work is happening across the country,” United States Artists President & CEO Deana Haggag said. “From painters to podcasters to pop musicians, we’re lucky to have these artists reflecting our collective humanity and stirring the public’s imagination.”

Please join us in congratulating the following 2019 USA Fellows:  


  • David Dorfman, Choreographer (New London, CT)
  • Lenora Lee, Dancer & Choreographer (San Francisco, CA)
  • Alice Sheppard, Dancer & Choreographer (Los Altos, CA)
  • Merian Soto, Dancer & Choreographer (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Yara Travieso, Choreographer & Filmmaker (Brooklyn, NY)


  • Charlotte Brathwaite, Director (New York, NY)
  • Complex Movements, Installation & Performance Collective (Detroit, MI)
  • Teo Castellanos, Theater Artist (Miami, FL)
  • Kaneza Schaal, Theater Artist (Brooklyn, NY)


  • Allison Akotchook Warden, Multidisciplinary Artist & Performer (Anchorage, AK)


  • Wu Tsang, Filmmaker & Artist (Los Angeles, CA)

For more information, read USA’s press release.

10 NPN Artists Receive Creative Capital Awards

Posted: Wednesday, January 16th, 2019 at 12:14 pm in News

Photo courtesy of niv Acosta, “BLACK POWER NAPS.”

NPN celebrates the announcement of the 2019 Creative Capital Awards, including 10 Network-supported artists and projects. The 50 selected projects will receive up to $50,000 in project funding and an additional $50,000 in long-term career development support — a total value of $100,000.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Brathwaite, “Forgotten Paradise: Gazette’s Sun.”

The projects were selected from a pool of over 5,200 applications, and they represent “some of the most exciting work being conducted in all disciplines,” according to Creative Capital’s press release (read more).

Please join us in congratulating the following artists:

NPN at and around APAP! 

Posted: Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019 at 1:03 pm in News

Photo by Lance J. Reha.
Edisa Weeks/DELERIOUS DANCES, “Three Rites: Liberty”

Next week, we’ll join thousands of colleagues from around the country for APAP|NYC in early January. We’ve compiled a few of the many places that you can see and engage with NPN Partners, artists, board members staff and friends:



  • Graham Reynolds Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance @ BRIC


  • Abby Z and the New Utility: Radioactive Practice (Work-in-Progress)
  • Sean Dorsey: Boys in Trouble
  • Bill Shannon: Touch Update
  • Netta Yerushalmy: Paramodernities (3 Installments)



  • Delirious Dance | Edissa Weeks: Three Rites


  • Pavel Zustiak and Palissimo Company: Custodians of Beauty
  • Plus other work by New Orleans friends, creep cuts, Goat in the Road, Meryl Merman/Flock, Screaming Trapps and more!
  • RSVP: 

Photo by Lydia Daniller
Sean Dorsey, “Boys in Trouble”


Flaco Navaja: Evolution of a Sonero co-presented with Under the Radar Festival

First Nation Dialogues: KIN
Conversation, Performance and Workshops curated by NPN Creation & Development Fund Artist Emily Johnson

Photo courtesy of Miguel Gutierrez
Miguel Gutierrez, “This Bridge Called My Ass”



Note: We tried to include as many NPN friends as possible, but this list is not exhaustive! Please click on the links for more information.

If you have questions about connecting with NPN at APAP, contact Stanlyn Breve at

NPN’s Next Chapter

Posted: Thursday, November 8th, 2018 at 8:04 pm in News

Dear NPN Friends:

Our strategic plan was born in a time of disruption, not just at NPN, but all around us — in our country, our communities and throughout our world. Over the last two years, this spirit has carried us through a holistic process of transforming the way we work. We’re excited to share some of the major changes and lessons from our planning process as well as what to expect from NPN moving forward.

Transformation takes time, and we have allowed our values to bloom as we have disrupted our processes, resisting the tendency to rush to outcomes. Moving forward, we recognize being nimble and responsive to the evolving needs of our constituents requires an intentional and ongoing practice of critical reflection, imagination and growth.

In this spirit of iteration, there is no final document. We plan to continue this process and share along the journey where we commit to change, reassert our values or set new intentions. I invite you to be part of this dialogue! In addition to the reflections and changes offered below, we’ve included some next steps and ways our colleagues can be part of this work.

Laying the foundation

Our mission articulates the four pillars through which all of NPN’s work — programs, practices and policies — will flow as we move forward:

  1. building power for artists,
  2. advancing racial and cultural equity,
  3. fostering relationship-building and reciprocity, and
  4. working toward systems change.

Mission: NPN contributes to a more just and equitable world by building and shifting power for artists; advancing racial and cultural equity; fostering relationship-building and reciprocity between individuals, institutions and communities; and working towards systems change in arts and philanthropy.**

Our vision reaffirms our long-standing focus on our core areas of impact — artists, our network of Partners, the communities with which our Partners engage and the broader cultural infrastructure (funders, colleagues, policy-makers, etc.) in which NPN is situated.

Vision: We envision a world in which artists have greater power and resources for meaningful, sustainable careers; strong networksmaximize their collective wisdom, resources and leadership; cultural infrastructure reflects deeper partnerships and more equitable practices and communities have greater capacity for civic engagement, representation and joy.**

**While these statements are not yet fully wordsmithed, the concepts and values they embody have been enthusiastically adopted by NPN staff and Board of Directors.

Summary of changes & impact on Network

  • Justice: NPN is committing to justice, as both an outcome and a practice. Advancing equity moves beyond diversity and inclusion, and prioritizes work of, by and for people of color, immigrants and Native and Indigenous peoples; people with disabilities; trans and LGTBQ people; people in rural communities and others who are systemically marginalized.
  • Belonging: We believe systemic disruption calls on us to engage in inclusive, spirited movement-building. We welcome everyone who is committed to the core principles in our mission to be part of our work, and we know our network composition will inevitably change as we put these values into practice. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to advancing equity in our field, and our intention is to foster a collaborative and reciprocal network where our entire learning community participates fully in this work in diverse and responsive ways.
  • On the move: In September 2018, NPN bid farewell to the Arts Estuary, which we operated as an office space for other arts nonprofits, a community gathering place and an event rental venue since 2014. Our new office allows us to streamline operations and opens up new partnerships for programs and gatherings in support of our New Orleans arts community.
  • International exchange: In this time of increased xenophobia, we assert our belief in global humanity. We have discontinued NPN’s stand-alone Performing Americas Program and U.S.-Japan Connection in order to better respond to our Partners’ international exchange activities, engagement with immigrant communities and support for artists working toward global justice. We invite Partners and other presenting organizations to participate in NPN’s survey on international engagement so we can focus our resources and attention where they can have significant and timely impact.
  • Return to “NPN“: In August, the Board of Directors adopted the return to National Performance Network (“NPN“) as our organizational name. This reflects our recent decision to clarify our artistic focus on supporting live, experiential exchange between artists and communities and to integrate the Visual Artists Network into this framework. We recognize “performance” does not adequately describe the full scope of our work, and while our Board considered a full name change at this time we wish to challenge ourselves to reimagine our work while still honoring the legacy embedded within the name NPN.

The process 

NPN approached strategic planning with a holistic examination of our history, operations, programs, finances, context within our sector and alignment with other social justice movements. We set out to address two major areas in parallel: to deepen our work in building a more just and equitable field, and to address significant, long-standing financial challenges. We entered this work with openness and humility, examining NPN’s internal practices, our outward-facing programs and the systems in which we are rooted.

External teams: Our planning engaged with the expertise of consultants Justin Laing and Ian David Moss (overall strategic planning), Nonprofit Finance Fund (financial assessment and capitalization planning), a collaboration with Creative Capital, MAP Fund and New England Foundation for the Arts (peer assessment), our Knowledge Building Initiative (KBI), led by Paul Bonin-Rodriguez and participation in Grantmakers the Arts’ racial equity committee.

Internal teams: Committees of NPN staff, Board members, artists and Partners developed strategies, outcomes and guiding principles around major impact areas within NPN:

  • Team Artists: advance equity through direct support to artists
  • Team Organizations: advance equity through direct support to arts organizations
  • Team Network: build a stronger network committed to systems rooted in justice
  • Team Praxis: model and advocate for more equitable organizational practices
  • Team Vernacular: embody our values in words

What’s next? 

    • Resource library: We are building an online library linking to readings, models for organizational practices, ways to evolve our language, and more. Do you have an article or model you believe is essential for advancing our work? Please share!
    • NPN’s identity: In 2019, we plan to share a new website, logo and branding to embody NPN’s values and offer a platform for more collaborative information-sharing. Stay tuned!
    • Engaging artists: In December, we will host a roundtable of artists to explore how NPN can better build and shift power for artists.We will also develop a survey, in collaboration with Grantmakers in the Arts’ Support for Individual Artists committee, to develop priorities for expanded support for artists within NPN.
    • Founding documents: We are working with writers and visual communicators to fine-tune NPN’s new mission, vision, values and guiding principles.
    • Network composition: In December, our Partners will explore ways we can foster greater collaboration and resource-sharing within the network. And throughout the year, our Partnership committee, Board and staff will be developing a new evaluation process for current and potential Partners. We expect to begin a new process in FY20.
    • Quarterly updates: We want to share more about upcoming opportunities, programming changes, highlights from our network and lessons learned in cultural policy and philanthropy. Look for in-depth quarterly updates, as well as more regular blog posts and social media stories.

    Thank you to all who have walked this journey of reflection and transformation with us, including the NPN staff and Board of Directors, Strategic Planning Chair Shannon Daut and all who have shared feedback, advice and inspiration throughout this process. We are so grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Lambent Foundation for their support of our strategic planning and for being such extraordinary thought partners to NPN.


Caitlin Strokosch
President & CEO

Weekly Roundup // Oct. 22, 2018

Posted: Monday, October 22nd, 2018 at 8:27 pm in E-Newsletters

Guest Post: Art at the Center of Civic Planning

Posted: Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 at 3:27 pm in News

Artists are used to dancing in the complexity. We like to make something where nothing exists; to explore new language around a struggle; to listen profoundly; to create new ways to see the world. Why not put artists in problem-solving roles?

By Krys Holmes
The Myrna Loy (NPN Partner, LANE Alpha Cohort) 

Helena, Mont. >> In this torn-apart world the one thing we all share is that everybody lives somewhere. Under a bridge, on a mountaintop, down the street from Grandma’s house—we all claim some place, in some way, as our own.

Celebrating our human connective tissue through place is one way communities are solving their most intractable problems. I spent three days in May at the ArtPlace America 2018 Annual Summit, a convening of more than 300 people engaged in creative placemaking. I learned about how artists, city planners, police chiefs, tribes, and social organizers are exploring new ways to transform communities through art.

Creative placemaking puts artists in the center of civic planning to help solve complex problems: transportation issues, public safety, inequities, land-use conflicts, neighborhood disputes. It was exciting to be around people developing best practices for this new field that is so different from arts presenting and curating.

Artists are used to dancing in the complexity. We like to make something where nothing exists; to explore new language around a struggle; to listen profoundly; to create new ways to see the world. Why not put artists in problem-solving roles?

America loves to put art in service to something else (STEM education, brain function, physical therapy…) What intrigues me about creative placemaking is what I loved about Church growing up: it facilitates communities sticking it out together because they believe in something bigger than their individual selves. I think this work—creating connectedness that is grounded in a place—is critical to healthy society. Only with creative placemaking it’s art, rather than religion, that is the gateway to transformation.

We all know the power of art to create change. Placemaking gains traction is shifting the spotlight away from the artist, to focus on connectedness. Community. Relationship. The art doesn’t have to be epic; the experience doesn’t have to be spectacular. But the relationship has to be authentic and enduring.

The field is only 10 years old, but there are plenty of resources and tools already in place: from ArtPlace America, Policy Link, Springboard for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, the Orton Foundation and Alternate ROOTS just to name a few.

In a nation so painfully factious, using our creative superpowers to build community around a city block, a river, a wall, a highway, or a town seems like powerful peacemaking.

About Krys Holmes

Holmes has been a writer, musician, non-profit administrator, interpretive historian, and (for one winter) a marten trapper in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska. She has organized book festivals and literary events; arranged music for choral and jazz performance; presented at international fisheries conferences; and is the author of the award-winning history book, “Montana: Stories of the Land.” She is the Executive Director of the Myrna Loy, a vibrant cultural hub in Helena, Montana.

Photos courtesy of ArtPlace and Lydia Brewer Photography. 

NPN Announces 2018 Creation & Development Fund Awards

Posted: Thursday, June 28th, 2018 at 3:51 pm in News

NEW ORLEANS (June 29, 2018) – The National Performance Network (NPN) announces its 2018 Creation & Development Fund Awards totaling $305,000 in support of 14 new artistic works across disciplines, geographies and cultures. The selected artists reflect NPN’s commitments to equity and access through the arts.

The Creation & Development Fund supports the creation, development and mobility of new artistic work resulting in live experiential exchange between artists and community. The Fund provides a framework for relationships to develop over time among diverse artists, arts organizations and communities, with co-commissioners from across the country and Mexico.

Through the investment of commissioning funds from arts organizations and NPN direct subsidies, each project is eligible for multilevel support. Forty-two arts organizations from Kahului, HI to Birmingham, AL will host the projects as co-commissioners, which will result in at least 52 paid artist engagements over the next three years. NPN support will be leveraged to bring in $1.3 million dollars in additional support to these projects.

Projects range from a documentary performance challenging notions of borders and bordering; an evolving slow-motion party/installation/teach-in that maps a new approach to old questions about identity; a collaborative performance combining jazz an puppetry and developed in community with an Emerging Puppeteers of Color Program and the reenactment of a profound journey through the criminal justice system that includes music, dance and spoken word.

The Creation and Development Fund is made possible with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency) and Commissioners. To learn more about National Performance Network and its subsidy programs, visit  


2018 Creation & Development Fund Recipients

Abby Zbikowski/Abby Z and the New Utility – New York, NY – “Radioactive Practice”

Commissioners: New York Live Arts, New York, NY; Dance Place, Washington, DC; American Dance Festival, Durham, NC; Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, Columbus, OH

Radioactive Practice is a new work by Juried Bessie award winning Illinois-based choreographer Abby Zbikowski, commissioned by New York Live Arts and set to premiere during their 2019-20 Season with additional support from the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. Based on Zbikowski’s rigorous physical practice that processes diverse aesthetic and cultural information, this work pushes a team of ten dancers from the United States, Taiwan, Senegal and Canada past perceived physical limits and conventions of established dance forms.

Andresia “Real” Moseley – Auburndale, FL – “Five Black Women”

Commissioners: Art2Action, Inc., Tampa, FL; ASU Gammage, Tempe, AZ

Five Black Women is a one-woman show that reveals the lives distinctively different Black women characters and their struggles with identity, sexuality and religion. Through poetry, song and DJ mixes, it reveals more than just the stories of diverse black women, but the struggle to identify as a human in this complex world. It’s about the hood, the church, the club and the stage. What happens when we let go…and how do we find acceptance for who we really are? What happens when circumstances push you, what’s too far, and how do we find our way back?

Edisa Weeks / DELIRIOUS Dances – Brooklyn, NY – “THREE RITES: Life, Liberty, Happiness”

Commissioners: 651 ARTS, Brooklyn, NY; Mount Tremper Arts, Mount Tremper, NY; Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Brooklyn, NY

THREE RITES: Life, Liberty, Happiness involves three performance rituals (rites) that integrate movement, live music, text, video and art installations to examine what these rights mean; how the rights have changed (or not changed) since the forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence; and in the age of Citizen’s United, Black Lives Matter, NAFTA, the Patriot Act, DACA, and the longest war in American history, how and for whom are these rights protected and promoted, and how they manifest in the body. THREE RITES uses interdisciplinary performance to spark discussions about urgent issues in American society today.

Jumatatu Poe – Philadelphia, PA – “Let ‘Im Move You: This is a Formation”

Commissioners: Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia, PA; Abron Arts Center, New York, NY; BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Bronx, NY; Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston, ME; Dance Place, Washington, DC; Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH PICA, Portland, OR; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL

Let ‘im Move You: This is a Formation is a new dance work by Philadelphia-based choreographer jumatatu m. poe and Dallas-based J-Sette artist Jermone “Donte” Beacham that unites Black dancers of various genders addressing choreographic, emotional, and spiritual forms present within J-Sette and other Black queer dance vocabularies. With live-constructed music and media design, Formation confronts historic imaginations and limitations of art institutions centering white aesthetics, and outdoor spaces within predominantly Black neighborhoods.

KJ Sanchez – Austin, TX – “Matanza (The Killing)”

Commissioners: Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX; California Shakespeare Theater, Berkeley, CA

Matanza (The Killing) is a durational performance based on the New Mexican ritual of the Matanza, created by award-winning playwright and director KJ Sanchez. Mining Sanchez’s research into her family’s New Mexican ancestry and history, this 24-hour performance tells the story of the Spanish Crown granting 250,000 acres to thirty families (Sanchez’s ancestors) and a feud that broke out over the rights to the land, which tore the community and her family apart. Sanchez combines the matanza, a social ritual in Hispanic culture, with a personal performance about family, community, and land-rights, which features cooking, feasting, storytelling, and song.

Marike Splint – Los Angeles, CA – “On The Other Side”

Commissioners: Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA; Art and Design Research Incubator at Penn State, University Park, PA

On the Other Side is a new documentary performance created by Marike Splint, challenging notions of borders and bordering in our present era. The project questions and challenges our growing tendency to draw these territorial lines and borders. The US/Mexico border is a clear starting point, but the performance aims to unpack the act of bordering beyond current flashpoints.

Miguel Gutierrez – Brooklyn, NY – “This Bridge Called My Ass”

Commissioners: PICA, Portland, OR; Kelly Strayhorn Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA; The Chocolate Factory Theatre, Long Island City, NY; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston, ME; Walker Art Center; Minneapolis, MN

This Bridge Called My Ass is a new evening-length dance/performance by Miguel Gutierrez for a group of five Latinx performers, with Stephanie Acosta as dramaturg. Part slow-motion party, part evolving installation, part embodied seminar/teach-in taught by futuristic (Spanish speaking) survivalists, the piece looks at longstanding tensions between form and content to map a new, irreverent approach to old questions about what constitutes identity politics and the avant garde. How do experimental artists of color, specifically “brown” artists, navigate terrain that is dominated by legacies of predominantly white artists? What can “brown” do to complicate inherited ideas about identity and abstraction?

Morgan Thorson – Minneapolis, MN – “Public Love”       

Commissioners: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Kahului, HI

Public Love (PL) is a dance intervention redefining power through physical tenderness and the human need for touch—both attributes of a kind of love. Positioning the dancing body as the generative center, choreography is composed from the inside out—from the vital, intimate experience of moving, not from an exterior position of seeing. From this location, virtuosity is mediated on the ensembles’ terms, disrupting hierarchical modes of power within dance creation itself. Transforming as it is re-situated, PL offers a rhizomatic, tactile structure that churns in a choreography of affection—as queer alternatives to might and control.

Myra Su and Tatsu Aoki – Chicago, IL – “Fault Lines and Expanding Forms”           

Commissioners: Links Hall, Chicago, IL; Asian Improv aRts, San Francisco, IL

Links Hall and Asian Improv aRts (San Francisco) are co-commissioning a collaborative performance by world renowned Jazz musician Tatsu Aoki, and accomplished shadow puppet artist/Manual Cinema company member Myra Su. This work will be developed in community with the artists participating in our Emerging POC (puppeteers of color) Program and it will premier during the January 2019 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

Paul S. Flores – San Francisco, CA – “We Have Iré”          

Commissioners: Pregones Theater/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, Bronx, NY; Miami Light Project, Miami, FL; GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington, DC; MECA, Houston, TX; MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana, San Jose, CA; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

A new multidisciplinary theater work by award-winning poet, performance artist and playwright Paul S. Flores, We Have Iré explores the lives of Afro-Cuban and Cuban-American transnational artists living in the United States, and their influence on and experience with American culture. Directed by Rosalba Rolón of Pregones Theater, with live music composition by Yosvany Terry and Dj Leydis, and choreography by Ramon Ramos Alayo, We Have Iré also looks at the challenges of being an immigrant artist and the triumph of establishing one’s voice in a new country.

RMwase Cultural Projects – New Orleans, LA – “VESSELS”

Commissioners: Junebug Productions, New Orleans, LA; Annenberg Center for the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

VESSELS is a seven-woman harmonic meditation on the transcendental possibilities of song during the Middle Passage. Experienced within an interactive and acoustically rich sculptural environment that invokes those infamous ships, this interdisciplinary ritual performance explores singing as a survival tool and asks, “What does freedom sound like in a space of confinement?” VESSELS will premier in 2018 on a floating barge in New Orleans and then tour to East Coast port cities that were active during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Roberta Uno and Dahlak Brathwaite – San Francisco, CA – “Try/Step/Trip”

Commissioners: Youth Speaks, Inc., San Francisco, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL; Miami Light Project, Miami, FL; Center for New Performance, CALARTS, Valencia, CA; Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Try/Step/Trip is a dramatic reenactment of a profound journey through the criminal justice system. Through spoken word, live music, dance and character monologues, the devised work will chronicle the process of the playwright’s own criminalization along with his struggle to be vindicated in the eyes of the law and society. The piece works through the personal shame of criminal stigmatization to examine the factors – both internal and external – that has misplaced him and the black male body in what appears as a cultural rite of passage.

Rosy Simas – Minneapolis, MN – “Weave”

Commissioners: Dance Place, Washington, DC; Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Kahului, HI; Alabama Dance Council, Birmingham, AL PA’I Arts & Culture Center, Honolulu, HI

Native choreographer Rosy Simas (Seneca) creates Weave, a dance project drawn from the interwoven and interdependent nature of our world. In Weave, individual and embodied stories are the vibrant threads that mesh in a performance woven of story, dance, moving image, and quadrophonic sound.

Unit Souzou – Portland, OR – “A Constant State of Otherness”

Commissioners: The Myrna Loy, Helena, MT; Caldera Arts, Sisters, OR; Dance Place, Washington, DC; Asian Arts Initiative, Philadelphia, PA

The Constant State of Otherness is a multi-layered performance and community engagement project exploring the isolation and displacement that comes from not having an easy sense of home. This project focuses on the conversational, narrative, and collaborative art of Taiko drumming to create artistic and social dialogs that will question, challenge and upheave the mainstream narrative of identity and belonging, especially within this current American landscape.

Photos (from top): 1) RMwase Cultural Projects, “Vessels Intensive;” photo by Melissa Cardona 2) Unit Souzou, Promotional Photo; photo by Yuen Design. 

Present at our 2018 Annual Conference!

Posted: Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 at 11:52 am in Events

Join your colleagues at the National Performance Network & Visual Artists Network Annual Conference in Pittsburgh on December 13-16, 2018!

The Annual Conference brings together 350+ artists, arts leaders, funders, policy makers, community organizers, and educators to explore building a more just and equitable world through the arts. All are welcome at the conference, and newbies and veterans alike are encouraged to submit session proposals! Deadline for submissions is June 8, 2018.

In alignment with NPN/VAN’s commitment to creating an arts sector rooted in justice, we are committed to ensuring a space that is free of racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, misogyny, classism, or other bias. We also encourage freedom of expression and we aim to create a brave, generative space. Our expectation is that all conference sessions and participants honor these ethics.

NPN/VAN is committed to fostering a peer-to-peer learning environment that challenges conventional practices and encourages discussion and exchange. The conference offers a mix of nuts-and-bolts sessions, conversations that examine our work through a lens of equity and justice, and opportunities for artists, presenters, funders, and others to be in community together as thought partners. (See 2017 Conference Schedule for examples from our most recent conference.)

The Content Committee encourages sessions that:

  • Include participants who represent historically marginalized people and communities
  • Include artists (we are happy to provide recommendations of artists who will be attending)
  • Include participants from the local community (we are happy to provide recommendations of Pittsburgh participants)
  • Stimulate discussion and debate, challenge conventional thinking, and offer different points of view
  • Showcase current or emerging trends and creative responses to challenges or opportunities facing artists and artist-centered organizations

Idea Forums
Idea Forum sessions are 45, 60, or 90 minutes: 45- or 60-minute sessions may have up to two presenters; 90-minute sessions may have up to four presenters, including the moderator. Except in rare circumstances, we will not include the same speaker in more than one session per year; please consider this when proposing speakers. Reach out to NPN/VAN staff if you would like speaker recommendations.

In addition to traditional panel formats, please consider the following options or propose your own.

  • Roundtable: All attendees participate in a group discussion.
  • Long Table: Designated participants start by sitting at a long table surrounded by audience; discussion participants change as people join and leave the table.
  • Snowball: Session presenters set context for discussion; audience continues discussion in pairs, then in groups of 4, groups of 8, and so on.
  • Point of View: Two presenters offer distinct case studies or models for how they addressed a specific challenge.

Peer-to-Peer Workshops 
Peer-to-Peer workshops are organized by artists for artists — from career hacks, to professional development, to work-life balance, to hands-on creative activities. Workshops are up to 2 hours long and can include one or more artist organizers.

Financial Policy
A small honorarium is available for practicing artists (not represented by an institution) who are presenting. We are not able to provide additional travel support or honoraria for those organizing or participating in conference sessions. For session participants who are not planning to attend the conference otherwise, we provide a one-day complimentary registration the day of the participants’ session.

How to Propose a Session

  1. Read the guidelines.  Read the guidelines. Please email no later than Monday, June 4 if you have questions about submitting a proposal.
  2. Submit a completed proposal webform no later than end of day Friday, June 8
  3. A Content Committee consisting of NPN/VAN Board Members, Partners, Artists, and Staff will review proposals, and may provide additional suggestions.
  4. Organizers of selected sessions will be notified by the end of June.
  5. Final session descriptions and confirmed speakers are due from organizers in mid-July.

Click here to propose an Idea Forum session

Click here to propose a Peer-to-Peer session

Download a PDF of the guidelines here

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