August 8, 2018
The Arts Are Flourishing at Our Pacific Island Agencies
I recently had the opportunity to visit our NASAA family colleagues in the Pacific island territories. It was a beautiful adventure, and I’d like to share a little of what I learned with you.
I landed in American Samoa on an early July morning, and what a welcome I received! Even before daybreak, and after my redeye flight, I was warmly greeted by Council on Arts, Culture and Humanities Executive Director Mary Taufete’e and Deputy Director Bernadette (Bernie) Fruean. Mary is new to the Council; prior to her appointment, she served as American Samoa’s territorial forester, a post under the auspices of the community college. She also served nine years as a member of the jurisdiction’s House of Representatives. These experiences provided great insight into the work of the territorial government, and Mary’s public service and policy acumen is already serving the Council well, as she dives into her role to sustain the arts, culture and language of American Samoa.
Among the Council’s many programs is the Summer Cultural Maintenance Program, which I experienced firsthand. It provides local youth the opportunity to learn Samoan cultural traditions, such as siapo and elei (bark cloth creation and painting), siva Samoa (local dance), ukulele, weaving, and woodcarving. A partnership with Territorial Administration on Aging (TAOA) creates an important opportunity for Samoan master artists and elders to participate and teach these aspects of the traditional culture to young students enrolled in the program. Mary sees partnership development as key to expanding the reach of the arts council, and its partnership with TAOA is definitely expanding program opportunities.
The importance of the Council’s presence in American Samoa can’t be overstated. On the mainland, state arts agencies support, sustain and often develop arts infrastructure in their states. In American Samoa, the Council is the arts infrastructure, working each day to connect artists and community.
I next had the good fortune to spend time with our friends in Guam. Led by Deputy Director Joyce Bamba, the Guam Council on the Arts & Humanities Agency (CAHA) is focused on supporting traditional and contemporary arts and culture on the island, and its work resonates significantly with policymakers. We visited with Speaker of the House Benjamin J. F. Cruz, who personally guided a tour of percent for art creations at the Guam legislative building. We also visited with Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo, who spoke passionately about the artworks in the governor’s office and about the fine work happening at CAHA.
Site visits on Guam included time at Chamorro Village, which features the work of master craftsmen; it is studio, teaching and sales space, with regular opportunities for deep public involvement. The CAHA team and I visited programs at the Guam Museum (managed by NASAA board member Monica Guzman), the University of Guam College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Gef Pa’go Cultural Village, Sagan Kotturan Chamoru Cultural Center, and more. It was an inspirational tour, and particularly striking was the depth of the relationships between CAHA and the individual artists of Guam. Artists know, appreciate and support CAHA. The agency’s commitment to individual artists is demonstrated in many ways, including its grant-making portfolio, which includes significant direct grants to artists. In fact, grants to artists sometimes eclipse grants to organizations, as the agency invests substantially in and directly to art making.
Northern Mariana Islands
The team at the Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture, in the Northern Mariana Islands, is growing to meet the needs of citizens. With eight staff members in Saipan, four in Rota and two in Tinian, Executive Director Parker Yobei and his team are focused on connecting visual and performing artists to marketplaces, providing public arts and cultural experiences for residents, maintaining the territory’s traditional cultures, and supporting policies that benefit artists. Most recently, the commonwealth’s legislature passed a bill for new tax policies to help artists make a living. Now signed into law, the first $20,000 earned by artists are tax free, with additional income taxed at one percent.
An additional area of focus is the revival of maritime traditions. The Council’s Seafaring Traditions Program is dedicated to preserving, promoting and perpetuating this part of Marianas culture. Traditional ocean sailing canoes are again being built and traditional navigation techniques are taught, and the Council for Arts and Culture plays a leadership role in this revival. Local excitement about this work was evident, as the Council moves the initiative forward.
No trip to the Pacific island territories is complete (or possible, if traveling by air from the U.S. mainland) without a stop in Hawai’i, where Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts Executive Director Jonathan Johnson and his team execute their mission to promote, perpetuate and preserve art and culture in the state. Pictured is the home of the arts agency and the State Art Museum, which is undergoing renovations. Construction most assuredly isn’t standing in the way of action by our colleagues in Honolulu, as citizens and visitors alike continue to enjoy the art collection on exhibit in this elegant facility.
I hope that many NASAA members will have the opportunity to meet some of our Pacific island members at NASAA Assembly 2018 in November. Early registration indicates the islands will be well represented, so be on the lookout and introduce yourself to these partners.
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