15 Years of Contemporary Native Arts

Washington State Historical Society’s annual juried exhibition, IN THE SPIRIT Contemporary Native Arts, is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year! The gallery has opened in the virtual realm as of July 16, and Washington State History Museum hopes to install the exhibition in their galleries later this summer when museums are reallowed to reopen. The exhibition’s 24 works by 20 artists range from whimsical to poignant and will never fail to lift your spirits.

Each iteration of IN THE SPIRIT is different, yet visitors will recognize some of the 2020 artists, including Peter Boome, Denise Emerson, RYAN! Feddersen, Dan Friday, Lily Hope, Linley Logan, Jeffrey Veregge, Matika Wilbur and George Zantua. The artists used a vast array of materials to create their textiles, paintings, basketry, photography, sculptures and carvings, and each piece shows that the past often weaves with the present and cultural traditions can blend beautifully with contemporary practices.

Each year, a jury reviews artists’ submissions for the exhibition. The remote 2020 jury included Todd Clark (Wailaki), Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Zuni/Tlingit), and Charles W Bloomfield (Pyramid Lake Paiute). “During these troubled times it would be easy to dismiss art as non-essential, and to an extent this is understandable. But then again, if life imitates art, perhaps art can help lift us and point us to a better future,” shared lead juror Todd Clark. “It was contemporary Native artists who first showed me what it looked like to be Native and living in the 21st century, where we retained our past, heritage and culture and yet thrived in the modern world. This is the power of art to me.”

Building on the success of the annual exhibition and festival, WSHS began collaborating with other museums in the Tacoma Museum District. In the last few years, both the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass have joined IN THE SPIRIT to share their unique galleries and artists.

“The three museums have worked together to grow the festival to celebrate emergent Native artists as well as the Indigenous cultures present in the Northwest,” said Molly Wilmoth, the History Museum’s lead programs manager. “Our free market draws thousands of people each year. So with the pandemic, we have expanded our advisory committee. They will help guide us in creating a virtual festival and arts market that will offer access to inspiring artists and educate patrons about contemporary Native arts.”

IN THE SPIRIT is supported in part by the Tacoma Arts Commission, South Sound Magazine, The Norcliffe Foundation, and Humanities Washington. Find out more at InTheSpiritArts.org.