Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Street Art in the Navajo Nation

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Ever since I was a child I have been obsessed with graffiti. I could never draw or paint, so it wasn’t that I was wanting to go out and do it (something I assume my parents were grateful for), but it was an art I admired. Some of the most beautiful works of art I have ever seen have been on the side of buildings, tunnels, and train cars.

“The Painted Desert Project” is the brain child of Chip Thomas. Thomas, a street artist himself, has enlisted the help of many other artists in his project. These artists are brought to the Navajo Nation in hopes of turning full (or remnants) of structures into works of art that represent the community. They create pieces on sides of buildings, old billboards, water tanks, etc. to depict aspects of Navajo life, culture, and history.

There is no mention of the artists backgrounds in the article, something I find interesting. It seems that each artist has only a base knowledge of the Navajo until they arrive on site. I could see it being problematic that these works of art are being primarily created by people that are not from within the Navajo Nation. In the article, a situation is addressed where an artist created a piece that was deemed offensive to the community. The issue was addressed with the artist, and the work was altered.

Perhaps by keeping an open and active dialogue between the artists and the Navajo Nation this project continues without much tension. It seems to be a wonderful artistic and educational opportunity for all involved.

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One comment on “Street Art in the Navajo Nation

  1. carolynsupinka18
    October 16, 2014

    I love murals and street art, and though the intention in this project seems really good, I agree that there are some aspects that are problematic. Rather than outside artists (as talented as they are) coming in and responding to the community, wouldn’t it be more interesting if the artists worked alongside the community to create these works? Whether through workshops or more collaborative efforts, there might be a more interesting and complex relationship in this project if the local community wasn’t just a prompt, but an active member in the creation of art.

    I also wonder if the artists, in any of these works, addressed their own role of an outsider. All of these works seem to be focused on imagery inherent to the community. This is of course subjective- maybe this was taken into consideration, or included in a symbolic way in some of the pieces in a way that I’ve missed. But I think the full extent of the artists’ foreign presence inside this community is something that could be explored more.

    I also wonder how long the artists spent on location? The article says that their stay is ‘extended’, and longer than that of a typical street art festival, but it doesn’t say definitively what that is. Is it a week? A month? A year?

    All this being said, I think this project has the potential to be really interesting. I really love art that explores space and identity, and I think with a little more thought (or clarification that could be found by asking the artists themselves) the potential of this project could be realized more fully!

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