The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Olympia-based Indigenous Performance Productions $100,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan grant to help the arts and cultural sector recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the goal of making the south Salish Sea area a center for the development of new Indigenous performances, the nonprofit will use the funding to increase organizational capacity, expand the community of Indigenous artists it serves and provide artists with enhanced opportunities for live and virtual performance and community outreach engagements.
“We are humbled by this investment in our organization and give thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts for their belief in the power and transformation that storytelling can foment. This award marks a transformational moment for Indigenous Performance Productions and will increase our ability to remove barriers for and create sustainability for Indigenous performing artists nationwide,” said Executive Creative Producer and founder of Indigenous Performance Productions Andre Bouchard in a news release.
The initial disbursement of $60,000 was made to Indigenous Performance Productions in March and the remaining $40,000 will be disbursed next fall, the organization told McClatchy.
The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded more than $57 million to arts organizations across the country.
“Our nation’s arts sector has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Rescue Plan funding will help arts organizations, such as Indigenous Performance Productions rebuild and reopen,” stated Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of The National Endowment for the Arts, in a news release.
With the support of the grant, Indigenous Performance Productions will launch three new full-scale productions, each premiering or stopping at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia.
The first show is Julia Keefe’s Indigenous Big Band, premiering at the center May 19.
“The big band is an interesting idea because there’s a long and storied history of Native Americans and jazz big bands. There’s documented proof of a dozen all-Native big bands through the jazz era,” Bouchard said in an interview with McClatchy.
The next production is the Native American Comedy All-Stars show, premiering in Portland Nov. 4 with two shows in Olympia Nov. 5 and Nov. 21.
“There’s a critical mass of Native American comedians — people who’ve been writing for ‘Ruthford Falls,’ ‘Reservation Dogs’ or are part of the Upright Citizens Brigade,” he said.
“The Aunties,” a storytelling project celebrating Native matriarchs, will be at the Olympia center Nov. 5.
Since its founding in 2016, Indigenous Performance Productions has supported 73 dance, music, theater and multi-disciplinary artists since its inception as Walrus Arts Management. Before the pandemic, it produced between 30 and 40 performances a year.
In 2019, the company transitioned from a limited-liability company and booking agency to a nonprofit production house — booking and touring while developing productions and educational services. It moved to Olympia and with the help of grants, the budget expanded and staff grew.
“I do this for my community. I believe in my heart that if we get more stories, connections and communities out to our young people, suicide and substance abuse wouldn’t be such a big problem in our communities,” said Bouchard, who grew up on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana and is of Kootenai, Ojibwe, Pend d’Oreille and Salish descent.
Indigenous Performance Productions launched its first full-scale project “Welcome to Indian Country” in May 2021 with the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The show — a five-piece musical ensemble joined by storyteller, Lummi Nation Tribal member and Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest — will complete a nine-city tour by the end of 2022.
“Whether it’s dance or performance, modern or traditional — I don’t think Native people need to be constrained by the traditional ways of storytelling,” said Bouchard. “It evolves into ideas that are distinctively Native and that idea is what so few know about outside of Indigenous circles. Native artists do uncompromising work in their seasons — work that doesn’t apologize or pull its punches. Work that’s both humorous and confrontational and all-around enjoyable.”
The production house prides itself on a unique approach to working with artists.
“Sustainability for Native performing artists and storytellers is the earned income revenue. After this initial infusion of resources,” Bouchard said about the grant, “It’s sustained income for around 20 artists. We pay artists well, above industry average, and make dispensation for family members to travel with them on the road. We make room in the budget because we value the presence of whole families.”
Over the last six years, Indigenous Performance Productions has raised and disbursed $1.2 million in grants and donations paid out in residency and tour fees for Indigenous artists.
For Indigenous Performance Productions, the funding is transformational because it significantly increases not only its budget but what the production house can apply to in the future. Receiving a six-figure grant opens up doors in the fundraising world, Bouchard explained.
“The work we do — there’s a price tag on it, but the most important part is we’re doing work that our community is invested in, that gives them hope, resonates with them, that is meaningful in so many different ways. And fortunately, the money on the other side of that has been there for what I’ve envisioned and my creative partners envisioned. The meaning to these Native artists and communities is priceless,” he said.
In the future, the organization plans to launch an annual international Indigenous gathering and performing arts festival.
“It’d be an affirmation of people who have survived colonization. Who are rolling those ideas back, reclaiming community and story,” he said.
For a touring schedule and tickets to Indigenous Performance Productions shows, visit indigenousperformance.org.