Wisconsin: Woodland Indian Arts Program

The Wisconsin Arts Board (WAB) continually works to build mutually beneficial relationships with the First Nations of Wisconsin and the diverse rural and urban Indigenous populations across the state. WAB is unique among state arts agencies in that a state statute guarantees annual arts related grant funds to Native communities, funded by a portion of the state’s gaming compacts with the 11 federally recognized tribal nations.

A Woodland Indian Arts grant supports the Oneida Nation Arts Program’s Music from Our Culture youth choir, which performs traditional and contemporary music. Photo courtesy of the Oneida Nation Arts Program

The Woodland Indian Arts grant is an annual grant that supports the growth of Native artistic practices. Grants are awarded for an 11-month period and range from $1,500 to $6,000 with a one-to-one in-kind or cash match. Applicants must be a unit of tribal government, a Native-led organization or an organization that provides direct services to Wisconsin’s Native American communities. Applicants can submit written application forms or video applications. Importantly, the applicant must be the most appropriate sponsor for the proposed activity. The grants can be used for traditional or contemporary art forms and can support different activities, such as:

  • Arts administration salaries
  • Documentation, preservation, and/or revitalization of languages or cultural practices
  • Technical assistance and professional development for Native artists
  • Presentation and promotion of Wisconsin’s Native artists through festivals, markets, exhibitions or media
  • Arts related planning and community engagement efforts that engage Native communities

Grant applications are reviewed by Native panelists. WAB prioritizes having Native community members review the Woodland Indian Arts grants, acknowledging that the gaming compact money comes from Native communities and should be adjudicated and administered by Native community members. In developing the panels, WAB considers panelist self-nominations, recommendations from former panelists, and contacts provided by Native WAB council members.

The panels examine the proposed activity’s service to one or more identified Native communities, the feasibility of the project, the artistic quality, and the degree to which the project will assist in developing a foundation for future cultural and economic support for Native arts and culture.

The Wisconsin Arts Board has sought to address community concerns around application challenges and to make the program more accessible. Changes include:

  • Increasing the award amount to justify the time spent applying
  • Removing the cash-only match requirement and allowing fully in-kind matches
  • Allowing video-only grant submissions
  • Providing on-demand technical assistance to support grant applicants, especially those who are unfamiliar with technical grant application systems
  • Expanding to include support for foodways (cultural activity related to food)

WAB also has undertaken multiple surveys and fieldwork to assess arts activities and proactively identify needs and interests within Native arts communities in Wisconsin. A survey conducted in 2014 with the Wisconsin Indian Education Association identified new-to-WAB artists within Ho Chunk and St. Croix and Bad River communities. The research helped deepen WAB’s understanding of the depth of talent within Wisconsin’s Native arts communities as well as more fully map extant assets. In addition to highlighting the fact that documentation of customary artforms, classes, tribal small business grants and Native artist networks already existed within the state, the survey results included recommendations to support professional development and access to work space.

For more information, contact Wisconsin Arts Board Folk and Traditional Arts Coordinator Kaitlyn Berle.