Why the new Cahokia indigenous art space is dedicated to the “creative place”
Indigenous peoples have been displaced from their original lands countless times in American history. But a new initiative in Phoenix seeks to give Indigenous artists, designers and social entrepreneurs their own space to create and collaborate.
Cahokia SocialTech + Artspace, located in downtown Phoenix at 707 North Third Street, # 130, will officially open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday, October 11. It is named after the 8th century native colony near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois, and Mississippi rivers that was one of the most advanced civilizations in early North America.
Founders Melody Lewis (Mojave, Tewa, Hopi) and Eunique Yazzie (Navajo) call Cahokia a space for “creative placekeeping,” a term many people may not be familiar with.
Yazzie explains, “We realized that we have no place and yet we belong. Gentrification is a form of place creation. So I do the opposite. A large number of artists have been relocated over the past 12 years to the Phoenix area due to gentrification. I want to make sure they have a place. But as I make room, I also keep my place, since I am an Aboriginal person.
There is a social fabric, a community, an energy before people or businesses set up, she continues. “When you delete them, you delete the memory,” she says. “Indigenous people have been repeatedly removed from their places of origin. Keeping the place for me is an internal process, like holding my positions, but also looking to the future and seeing how can we be a part of the growth. ”
Both women have experience supporting the Aboriginal community; Lewis, through the Indigenous Community Collaborative and Yazzie, the Indigenous Design Collab.
Native issues drew Yazzie to the center of town. She wants to shed light on the challenges the reserves face: security, water contamination and education. Additionally, she wants to add more Indigenous representation to the arts and downtown Phoenix.
Lewis says, “Phoenix is one of the top five cities with the most Indigenous representation. It’s not just 22 tribes here, but you have a representation of many tribes.
Open the door to Cahokia and you face the location’s mission statement in a work of art. A black wall decorated with black patterns was created by four artists: Eunique Yazzie, Jeremy Arviso, Claudia Lopez and Jesse Yazzie (not related to Eunique).
“Our story is that when we come together as creatives, we have more power,” says Yazzie.
Next to the black collaborative wall art is a table with merchandise for sale. The space opens to the left. Works by Indigenous artists hang on the walls. A painting by Frida Kahlo rests on an easel.
In the main office, a calendar lists upcoming events: Cahokia offers workshops and educational strategies in art and entrepreneurship.
The center will eventually offer a revolving retail space, a living room, YouTube and film editing studios, a podcast room (nearly full), a computer lab, a revolving art gallery and members’ offices. . For artists, the founders plan to find studio space by collaborating with outside partners.
Currently, Cahokia has 15 members (two of whom work in space) and around 25 Ambassadors who operate out of space. The difference between the two groups is the time commitment (members give more of their time).
The founders and members are deeply dedicated to the purpose of Cahokia.
Dustin Lopez, a graffiti artist, was a firefighter who lost his ability to serve after contracting COVID. He teaches children to reflect on themselves, to find their identity and to navigate the world inside and outside the reserve.
“I received a lot of help in making my art known and naturally I wanted to give back,” he says.
Originally from Mexico, Adan Madrigal is IMPACT strategist and videographer. “I bring an outside point of view,” he says. For him, creating stories around the history of Indigenous peoples matters the most.
“We are already seeing tremendous excitement from the community,” says Madrigal. “I hope this inspires others to replicate Cahokia across the country.”
When Jesse Yazzie, an artist, met the founders, he had no platform. “I had spent eight years in prison and most people were intimidated by me, but they took a chance with me and it had a ripple effect. It was more than I could ever do on my own. The community here reminds me of home, which is rare in a regular organization. That’s why I want to give back, even if it means taking out the trash.