The Olympia area has set a national example for harnessing the power of art.
The National Endowment for the Arts has highlighted a collaboration between the Squaxin Island Museum and The Evergreen State College’s Longhouse Education and Cultural Center as a model for how local artists can make a positive impact in their community.
In a new book titled “How to Do Creative Placemaking: An Action-Oriented Guide to Arts in Community Development,” a case study cites the local collaboration’s focus “on arts and culture as the center of their expression of tribal identity.”
“Creative placemaking” is defined by the NEA as “giving the arts a seat at the community development table.” The book promotes ideas for using the arts as a tool when considering anything from zoning to transit and real estate developments.
In a chapter called “Celebrating Community Identity,” the Olympia case study describes how a series of art residencies and community workshops led to production of traditional indigenous art as gifts for participants in the Tribal Canoe Journey. The annual event takes place around Puget Sound and attracts nearly 20,000 participants and spectators.
The tribe wanted to offer traditionally made gifts during its “potlatch ceremony” instead of store-bought souvenirs. Artwork from the collaboration included woven baskets, painted drums with elk hide, twined tunics and more. Artists of all ages represented 11 tribal groups.
The effort was credited for helping the artists elevate their craft while finding new exhibition and business opportunities, according to the report.
“Their collective vision was to create residencies and workshops that would bring the significance of their traditional practices to the attention of broad audiences through their dances, songs and gift-giving,” the study said. “These residencies not only produced the gifts themselves, but also created an invaluable educational experience and — most importantly — became a way to continue traditional arts practices.”