Tenacity evolves from both nature and nurture. Delana Joy Farley (Diné) has honed this valuable trait into a sharp skill that has helped her navigate through the competitive world of art.
Growing up traditionally in Littlewater, NM, a rural, isolated Navajo community, Farley remembers pretending to be Indiana Jones, the archaeologist. She says, “I still enjoy learning about other cultures all over the world.” As a child, she also learned to weave, a skill she has carried into adulthood: “I weave Two Grey Hills rugs, and I love art,” says the former National Honor Society member and homecoming queen. “I love creating works from my imagination.”
While in high school, Farley couldn’t decide whether to enroll in college after graduation or enlist in the military. Her high school art teacher encouraged her to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA, Santa Fe, NM)— and she is glad she made that choice. She attended IAIA from 2002-2006, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Museum Studies and went on to earn her master’s of art degree from New York University’s (NYU) Graduate School of Arts and Science.
In addition to her academic studies, Farley notes that her many travel experiences and relationships with students from around the world have influenced her perspectives. “I have traveled to Hawaii and New Zealand where I learned about other Indigenous people and their struggles,” she says. “At NYU, I interned at El Museo Del Barrio and worked part time at the American Indian Community House. I learned so much from my classmates from Columbia, Hawaii, Guatemala, Taiwan, India, and New Zealand.”
While studying at IAIA, Farley was selected for the mentoring and intern program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). She had two mentors, Sean Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway’s grandson who was the curator from the Greek and Roman Arts Department) and Suzanne Shenton from Visitor’s Services. “The MET had a very interesting orientation: They taught me how to be very poised, how to properly communicate my ideas to the visitors, how to articulate well,” she says. One of the highlights of her internship was being introduced to the director of the Museum Studies Department at New York University.
The success of Farley and two other tribal college interns at the MET led Gail Bruce and Michael Chapman (Menominee) to formalize and expand the program. With a seed grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation they created UNRESERVED American Indian Fashion and Art Alliance, based in New York City, to help American Indian designers and artists explore careers in the art and fashion industry through mentoring and internship programs. Both realized that tribal colleges educate students, but UNRESERVED could offer them the experience they need.
UNRESERVED was created to support the American Indian spirit and style in fashion and art by helping young, innovative artists and designers find positions where they can learn and expand their talent. UNRESERVED also emphasizes sustainability: “We recognized that young artists and designers needed a way to take what they develop naturally based on their culture and heritage and learn how to bring it to the marketplace,” Bruce explains. “It’s a matter of creating not just opportunities for oneself but learning how to sustain a community economically.”
For example, by learning from an established patternmaker in the industry how to properly cut a pattern, young designers can create more than one garment at a time. By learning this, they can bring that knowledge back home and create a small business, where they can sell in their own community. “It’s all about building a microcosm of business that will have a lasting effect on a community,” says Bruce. “That’s what we mean when we refer to ‘sustainability.’”
Bruce has been at the fulcrum of many initiatives involving American Indians. Indeed, she has spent much of her career helping to build the framework for organizations such as the American Indian College Fund and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Cultural Centers Initiative.
She also sits on the board of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative (MADI) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through the dedication of Donna Williams, director of MADI, they created mentoring positions for tribal college students in museum studies at the MET, such as Farley.
Co-founder Michael Chapman, who worked with Bruce on the AIHEC Cultural Centers, has brought to UNRESERVED his vast experience in the nonprofit sector and a passion for Indian art. He has consulted with the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Department of Interior’s American Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and numerous national Native organizations. He has raised millions of dollars for Native causes.
Internships are key to almost any career path, but they can be intimidating and frustrating. Farley admits that her interning was not without its challenges. “I didn’t know anyone in New York City, and I was really, really homesick,” she says. “Part of the multicultural mentorship program helped me overcome some of that homesick feeling.”
Farley says, “Internships are crucial to hands-on learning and integrating what you have learned in whatever study you are engaged in.” She adds that internships offer students the opportunity to find different areas of interest into which they can transfer their work. “Artists, in general have a hard time,” she says, “and these internships at the MET are there to nourish them.”
Farley currently works as the museum registrar at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Her experiences might inspire other Native students to embark on similar journeys: “My advice would be to keep the thought in your mind of how proud your relatives will be with you,” she says. “Think of your internship as something special that doesn’t come around every day.”
Barbara Ellen Sorensen is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Tribal College Journal. To learn more about UNRESERVED, visit their website: www.unreservedalliance.org.