Can Arts and Culture Shift Economics?

June 30, 2017

By: Ebony McKinney for ArtPlace America

In Part 2 of my interview with Lori Pourier of First People’s Fund/Rolling Rez and Cheryal Hills of Regional Five Development Commission/Sprout Growers and Makers we take alternate definitions of wealth, the ethics of mobilizing cultural assets and the value of culture bearers as coaches and knowing on whose shoulders you stand. Missed part 1? Read it here. 


EBONY:  Why involve artists?

CHERYAL: We wanted a location, a place, that values the region's place and identity, so that we used art and food because art and food are intrinsic to our human needs. Sharing our cultures through storytelling or sharing our cultures through whatever it is, basket weaving or iron working, or whatever, we wanted a space where we could have conversations about being an inviting place. Particularly for me, as an economic development organization, this was about attraction of a workforce. I cannot attract a workforce if we are not a place that welcomes diverse cultures.


EBONY: Can you both talk about cultural assets and economic mobility? Is it appropriate or important to mobilize cultural assets?

LORI: At the center of everything at First People's Fund are the culture bearers. Our mission is, "To support and honor the collective spirit of artists, entrepreneurs, and culture bearers." But, the collective spirit really came around that, "What is that moves each one of us to stand up and make a difference within our tribal communities and to extend that hand of generosity?"


EBONY: Cheryl, what do you think about this, about harnessing cultural assets and the strengths and possible weaknesses of it?

CHERYAL: If it's important to mobilize them, but it's really, really important if you're going to harness and understand cultural assets that you understand the world views of the people that are creating those cultural views, right? We can create an exchange that has meaning on people's lives through opportunities of this space, in ways that honor culture.


EBONY: It seems like this conversation is about economic development, but it seems it's a lot about trust and exchange, and inclusivity and honoring culture.

CHERYAL: … and social cohesion, and of course it's economic prosperity, because that's what I do every day. We practice what the Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute created, called the Community Capital's WealthWorks approach to economic development. They have 8 forms of wealth. They speak to, obviously, individual, intellectual, built assets, financial assets. They also speak to the need for cultural and natural resource assets, etc., but they speak to cultural and social assets. If you leave one out, again, you don't create real sustaining, resilient wealth. You create flash-in-a-pan, or an industry cluster, but not a wealth-based cluster that multiplies those economies in your community many times over. So, that's one of the reasons we've been thinking about it.             


EBONY: How to tailor your classes towards particular contingencies?

CHERYAL: We don't prescribe that. We ask them what they want.


EBONY: What's one thing that has come out of that, when you ask them?

CHERYAL: Social media training and training on how to even think about QuickBooks. Succession planning for growers is a big one that's been asked for.

LORI: Our curriculum is really designed in partnership and alliance with the Native CDFIs, so we certify artist success coaches at the CDFIs to provide the services in the communities of where we can't be. Just in the Southwest region, there's 23 states alone.


EBONY: They coach them through projects?

LORI: No, we actually train the artists how to be artist success coaches, business coaches at the CDFI. Gus Yellow Hair, who I mentioned earlier, was not only the driver of the Rolling Rez Fair, also the instructor at Oglala Lakota College, with a couple of his traditional arts classes, but, he was also an artist success coach. We hold a space that's led and driven by artists, but the CDFI will have their whole kind of menu of services, developmental services, offered through there as well. Then, we take the show on the road. Ours really starts with, "Who is it that taught you? Who taught you the core values?" It really begins from that, and then we go into kind of the general marketing, but we feel like we can't start with them until they really understand who brought them to the group. Who brought them? On whose shoulders do they stand?

A blog series by Ebony Mckinney