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Indigenous Arts Initiative

Creating opportunity and supporting Indigenous artists

The Indigenous Arts Initiative (IAI) supports a rotating series of Indigenous art labs that provide Indigenous artists an opportunity to hone creative skills, expand professional networks and gain leadership experience through collaborative, mentor-based programming at the University of Kansas.

As a partnership between KCAIC, KU Film and Media Studies, the Spencer Museum of Art and the Lied Center, the IAI offers a series of collaborative workshops, masterclasses and public events in Lawrence, Kansas, that coincide with the annual KU Indigenous Cultures Festival. In addition to training and mentoring emerging artists, the goal of the Initiative is to enhance Indigenous leadership at the border of artistic and community practice, while strengthening ties between the State of Kansas and Indigenous communities. Each year, mid-career Visiting Artists are selected from a range of mediums, including visual art, film and media, and music and performance to instruct and mentor artists from across Kansas.

IAI Visiting Artists will present a three-to-four-day workshop in their respective mediums. At the end of the workshop period, each Visiting Artist will choose one or two proposed projects from among their participants, in consultation with the IAI Committee, to mentor the emerging artists as they complete their new work.

2022 IAI Visiting Artists

Martha Redbone (Eastern Cherokee, Choctaw and African American descent)

Music Workshop:

Martha Redbone is a vocalist/songwriter of descent, and will be presenting a workshop: “Write About It! Creativity in Songwriting, Rhythm and Spoken Word”. Workshop details and schedule to be determined based on registrant feedback.

About the Artist: Martha Redbone is a Native & African-American vocalist/songwriter/composer/educator. She is known for her unique gumbo of folk, blues, and gospel from her childhood in Harlan County, Kentucky infused with the eclectic grit of pre-gentrified Brooklyn.

Carlos Rivera (Nahuatl, Mixteco)

Dance Workshop:

Body + Spirit = A Land Connection

A dance workshop based on traditional Indigenous dance concepts complement with stage and contemporary dance techniques. The participants will develop a deep relationship with the land, leading them to make strong ties with their bodies and the land where we stand, walk, dance, create and live on it.

About the Artist: Carlos Rivera is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, director, and actor. He is a native of Mexico of Nahuatl and Mixteco descent, and now based in Toronto. Carlos has a degree from the Escuela de Danza of the Secretaria de Cultura of Mexico City, where he studied traditional Mexican dance. He also has a degree in contemporary dance and choreography from the Centro de Investigación Coreográfica—CICO. He has been very active on the Canadian dance scene for the past sixteen years.


Reyna Hernandez (Iháŋktuŋwaŋ Dakota/Yankton Sioux)

Public Art Workshop:

Visual Storytelling: Exploring Identity & Representation in Public Art Spaces

Participants will be asked to draw from memory to explore the concepts of identity, place and belonging. Through processes of identifying and sharing personal and/or inter-generational stories concerning traditions, journeys, cultural memory etc… participants will be asked to define their own individual landscape to make connections to broader universal concepts using visual language, metaphor, and symbolism.

About the Artist: Reyna Hernandez is multi-disciplinary visual artist who works on collaborative community-based public art projects. Her work investigates identity hybridity in relation to her Indigenous Bloodlines and westernized education. She is Iháŋktuŋwaŋ Dakota (Yankton Sioux) and currently lives and works in Vermillion, SD.


Past Visiting Artists

Nanobah Becker (Navajo)

Filmmaking Workshop:

Filmmaker Nanobah Becker’s workshop will explore how incorporating Diné values has strengthened her storytelling. Nanobah will also share information about how a director can effectively work with collaborators (cinematographer, actor, producer, etc.) to elevate their work.

About the Artist: Becker (Navajo) is an award-winning filmmaker and producer whose work has screened at numerous international film festivals. She is the recipient of the National Video Resources Media Arts Fellowship and was selected for the Native Forum Filmmaker’s Workshop at the Sundance Film Festival.

October 7-9, 2021

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi)

Photography Workshop

Chemehuevi photographer Cara Romero creates evocative portraits that reflect the diversity of contemporary Indigenous experiences. During this four-day workshop, Romero will ask participants to consider how photographs tell stories, connect us with collective histories, and foster a sense of community and belonging. Under Romero’s guidance, participants will work together to develop a collaborative project, which will culminate in a staged group photography shoot on the final day of the workshop. In addition, each person will use workshop time to brainstorm an individual project using newly gained expertise.

About the Artist: Romero aims to share both artistic and practical skills in photography, aesthetics, lighting, editing, and project planning and management. She also hopes to promote dialogue about shared cultural identity, critical thinking, and problem-solving that will be more broadly applicable. This workshop welcomes photographers of all skill levels; no previous experience or personal equipment will be necessary to participate.

October 6-9, 2021

Joseph Erb (Cherokee)

Filmmaking Workshop: Digital Animation

Joseph Lewis Erb, Cherokee Nation Citizen, will teach a workshop about how to animate Indigenous stories. Participants will learn the principles of Indigenous storytelling while also learning the fundamentals of animation. Participants will learn to use 2D software like Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro. The workshop will be delivered in a series of discussions, lectures and short projects.

About the Artist: Joseph Erb is an artist, computer animator, film producer and educator enrolled in the Cherokee Nation. He is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri in the School of Visual Studies. Joseph has spent much of his life working to integrate Cherokee language into the latest technologies. In 2002, Erb created the first-ever Native American computer animation, as well as the first-ever computer animation in the Cherokee language titled, “The Beginning They Told.” He has taught animation to Muskogee Creek and Cherokee students using traditional stories in their own Native language. Erb has spent years working on projects that expanded the use of the Cherokee language in technologies and new media. These projects resulted in several successes such as Cherokee language on the iPhone, Cherokee Google Search engine, Gmail in Cherokee, Facebook in Cherokee and Microsoft Operating System Windows 8 in Cherokee. He helped to create working relationships between Cherokee Nation and technology companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft that still exist today. His award-winning digital stories are shown in film festivals across the world. In 2016, he received the Cherokee Nation Community Leadership award, and in 2017, he received the Cherokee Nation Community Organization award for strengthening the Cherokee language and culture, including his role as program coordinator for the Cherokee Nation Remember the Removal program. His work crosses many disciplines in service to Cherokee community, culture and language.

November 12-15, 2020
Virtual Event

Dana Warrington (Menominee/Prairie Band Potawatomi)

Visual Art Workshop: Traditional Quillwork

Master artist instructor and quiller Dana Warrington, Menominee and Potawatomi, will lead this workshop. During the interactive session, you will learn the process of sorting, dying, fabricating molds, designing, wrapping and putting your quill project together. As a participant, all of your materials required for this workshop will be provided at no cost to you. Due to the limited timeframe to conduct this workshop, the workshop will be intense learning and will require your dedication and commitment to finish the program. At the conclusion of the workshop, the Initiative committee, along with artist Dana Warrington, will choose one participant to work on an extended project. The master artist and participant will identify a project on which to collaborate.

About the Artist: Dana Warrington is an enrolled Prairie Band Potawatomi tribal member of Kansas as well a proud Menominee of Wisconsin. He was born in northern Wisconsin and currently resides in Cherokee, NC. Warrington has been creating traditional quill work since 2011 and has won numerous awards at the largest native art markets in the United States. In 2017, Warrington won three awards including Best in Show at the Eiteljorg Indian Art Market. That same year, he won first and second place at the Santa Fe Indian Art Market. Since then, Warrington has participated in numerous art markets including the Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, Ari.; Eiteljorg Indian Art Market in Indianapolis, Ind.; Santa Fe Indian Art Market and Santa Fe Winter Art Market in Santa Fe, NM; Cherokee Indian Art Market in Tulsa, Okla.; and the National Museum of American Indian Art Market in New York, NY.

Oct. 14-18, 2020 10am–6pm
In-person, limited attendance with COVID-19 pre-cautions in place

Steven Grounds (Navajo, Euchee, Creek and Seminole)

Steven Grounds, from the Navajo, Euchee, Creek and Seminole tribes, was born in Pawnee, Okla., in 1977. He began studying and creating art during early childhood. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in American Indian Studies from Haskell Indian Nations University in 2004, he began to focus his artistic vision under the psuedonym Native Evolution, which was influenced by the street art scene when he resided in Phoenix from 2005-2010.

After moving back home to Oklahoma, Grounds decided to pursue his dream of painting street art murals. The most notable mural in Grounds’ portfolio is the 70-plus-feet Cheyenne and Arapaho mural located in Concho, Okla.

Over the years Grounds has been able to collaborate with many great artists and has his ever-evolving body of work in both the street art scene and fine art galleries.

Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muskogee)

Sterlin Harjo, a member of the Seminole Nation, has Muskogee heritage and was raised in Holdenville, Okla. He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he studied art and film.

He received a fellowship from the Sundance Institute in 2004. Harjo’s short film, Goodnight, Irene, premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and received a special jury award at the Aspen Shortfest. In 2006, he received a fellowship from the newly formed United States Artists foundation.

Harjo’s first feature film, Four Sheets to the Wind, tells the story of a young Seminole man who travels from his small hometown to Tulsa to visit his sister after the death of their father. The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the grand jury prize. Harjo was named best director at the 2007 American Indian Film Festival. 

Harjo’s second feature, Barking Water, premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It portrays a road trip by a dying man and his former lover across Oklahoma to see his daughter and granddaughter in Wewoka, the capital of the Seminole Nation. Barking Water was named best drama film at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival. Harjo’s first feature documentary, This May Be the Last Time, is based on the story of Harjo’s grandfather, who disappeared in 1962 in the Seminal County town of Sasakwa. His third feature film, Mekko (which will be shown in Lawrence during the festival), a thriller set in Tulsa, debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June 2015. Mekko paints the portrait of a homeless Native American parolee who seeks to save his chaotic yet beautiful community from the darkness that threatens it. 

Harjo has also directed a number of short-form projects. His 2009 short film, Cepanvkuce Tutcenen (Three Little Boys), was part of the Embargo Collective project commissioned by the imagineNative Film + Median Arts Festival.

He has directed a series of shorts for This Land Press in Tulsa, where Harjo is the staff video director. He was a member of the 2010 Sundance shorts competition jury.

Harjo is a founding member of a five-member Native American comedy group, The 1491s.

He also is one of the directors of Cherokee Nation’s monthly television news magazine, Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People, which is produced by Fire Thief Productions, a Native American production company which he cofounded with Cherokee photographer, Jeremy Charles.




Kate Van Steenhuyse, Interim Director

(785) 379-1608

[email protected]

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