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It began nearly 20 years ago when leaders at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art realized that Native American and First Nation artists too often lacked access to the opportunities of other artists. Funding was scarce. So were opportunities to exhibit their work. So, the Eiteljorg curators reflected on their museum’s mission – “to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America” – and established in 1999 the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship (formerly the Fellowship for Native American Fine Art).
A grant from Lilly Endowment helped the Eiteljorg launch the biennial fellowship that supports and recognizes both renowned and rising Native American and First Nations artists who work with “contemporary media and ideas.” Through the fellowship program, the Eiteljorg has awarded more than $1.2 million in unrestricted cash awards to 50 Native artists. The museum has purchased and leveraged the contributions of more than 400 works of contemporary Native art since the fellowship began, helping to bring long-sought recognition to the field of contemporary Native art.
In late 2017, the Eiteljorg launched a series of special events to celebrate the fellowship’s 10th biennial and to provide space for both reflection and future planning.
Reflecting on the new exhibit and related events, Vanausdall noted that Native Art Now! “is an important way to fulfill [the mission of the Eiteljorg] and to introduce the public to Native people today.”