Oklahoma: Strategic Planning and Native Cultural Practitioners and Artists Survey

From the Oklahoma State Capitol Art Collection. Photo by the Oklahoma Legislative Service Bureau, courtesy of the Oklahoma Arts Council

Thirty-eight federally recognized tribes reside within Oklahoma’s state borders and account for nearly 13% of the state’s population. To serve this population—which is culturally and historically significant to the state—the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC) pursues a series of strategies to support Indigenous artists, Native communities and tribal governments.

To better understand Native artists in Oklahoma as entrepreneurs and creators, OAC contracted with arts expert America Meredith, Cherokee Nation, to conduct a survey of Native artists across the state. In addition to a written survey, the field scan included three listening sessions with individual artists where participants were compensated for their time and expertise. The questions were crafted to be as inclusive of art forms as possible to ensure artists working in all media, from basketry to woodcarving, felt empowered to participate. Nearly 120 artists participated in the survey, which identified widely practiced art forms, places of economic activity, living culture bearers and notable artists. Results indicate that the following were top business development needs for Native artists in Oklahoma:

  • photographic documentation
  • copyright and intellectual property assistance
  • bookkeeping and tax information
  • equipment and tools
  • marketing, online presence and web development
  • assistance with museum and archival research
  • exhibition, classroom and/or workshop space
  • access to workshops
  • well-being, including motivational techniques, meditation and social inclusion
  • financial assistance for out-of-town lodging and for booth and application fees

As part of the survey work, Meredith produced a contact information database for OAC of Oklahoma’s 38 tribes, tribal historic preservation officers, tribal museums, galleries and craft stores, art markets, annual juried exhibitions, and individuals who are in contact with creative practitioners. Meredith also created a brochure, “Resources for Oklahoma Native American Artists,” distributed by First American Art Magazine. The piece concludes with a few recommendations, including continuing Native asset mapping, the possible use of microgrants, and strengthening network and communication ties between existing organizations and individual artists.

Comanche Nation Youth Dancers perform for the opening ceremony of the Oklahoma Arts Council’s statewide arts conference.

OAC provided space for Native American artists living in Oklahoma to convene and share relevant resources at the 2023 Oklahoma Arts Conference, which took place in Lawton—near the headquarters of the Comanche Nation and Ft. Sill Apache Tribe. The Native artists forum focused on networking and professional development, featuring presentations on local and national resources. To ensure that the event was accessible, participants in the Native forum were not required to register for the larger statewide conference. OAC partnered with the Comanche Nation to host the overall conference, which included workshop presentations by Native artists from across the state and a dance ceremony to open the conference.

OAC’s strategic plan outlines cross-sector partnerships that the agency will pursue, and collaborations with Oklahoma’s tribes are included in that array. The strategic plan also commits the agency to facilitating access to the arts for all 77 Oklahoma counties, including rural areas, Native communities, and communities that have not previously been reached by agency services. To attain these accessibility goals, OAC has adopted a concerted effort to integrate Native expertise across multiple aspects of the agency’s work, such as:

  • Including Native artists on agency performing and teaching artist rosters
  • Including Native representation on selection committees for public art and on grant panels
  • Locating professional development and leadership programs in rural and reservation communities
  • Inviting Native representatives to discuss revisions to fine arts education standards
  • Conferring with tribal leadership and Native organizations about program design
  • Installing public art and curating gallery exhibitions at the state capitol that fully represent the wealth of cultures across Oklahoma and the long history of the land and its peoples while including works by Native artists
  • Participating in meetings and events significant to tribes in Oklahoma, from tribal meetings to arts markets, festivals and powwows
  • Awarding grant funds (including ARPA support, Rural Opportunity awards and Community Arts Experience grants) to 17 of Oklahoma’s tribes, tribal museums and tribal colleges
  • Promoting the state capitol and the First Americans Museum as important spaces for illuminating stories of Oklahoma’s Native communities to visitors
  • Partnering with Native communities to present an annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration

For more information, contact Oklahoma Arts Council Director of Rural and Creative Community Outreach Molly O’Connor.