Native Arts Initiative (NAI)

Native Arts Initiative (NAI)

About the Native Arts Initiative

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) works to build healthy economies in Indian Country based on strategies that emphasize Native communities controlling their assets, including cultural assets, institutional assets, natural resource assets and political assets among others. As a cultural asset for Native communities, art has been an integral part of sustaining Native nations, culture, language and traditional beliefs, shaping community and family ties and cultural pride. Yet, the process of colonization has stripped many Native communities of artistic forms and individuals with the capacity to carry on traditional art forms that are integral to their cultures. Factors such as western and religious education systems as well as urbanization and incorporation into the modern economy, among others, have all directly impacted Native American artists and the field of Native American arts, placing continued pathways of cultural traditions in jeopardy.
To this end, First Nations established the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI) in 2014 – changing its name to the Native Arts Initiative (NAI) in 2016 – to support the long-term perpetuation and proliferation of Native artistic and cultural heritage by supporting Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs that are focused on 1) fostering the retention and growth of traditional artistic skillsets of Native American artists as culture bearers, and 2) bridging relationships and the transference of traditional artistic and cultural knowledge between artists and other community members. The NAI, supported by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies along with contributions from tribal, corporate and individual supporters of First Nations, strives to strengthen the organizational and programmatic infrastructure of Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs, thereby enhancing their long-term sustainability and stability as they work to meet the needs of their constituent artists and preserve and revitalize traditional artistic practices in their communities.

      NAI News and Grantee Stories      

AICHO Opening New "Indigenous First" Gift Shop in Duluth, Minnesota

First Nations Will Expand Its Native Arts Initiative in 2017

American Indian Community Housing Organization in Duluth, Minnesota

Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. in Porcupine, South Dakota

Gizhiigin Art Place in Mahnomen, Minnesota


NAI Funding Opportunities

Between 2014 and 2016, First Nations awarded a total of 19 grants to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs serving Native American artists in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, for a total of $540,000. 

Beginning in December 2016, First Nations will be expanding the NAI to include several other regions – the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California) and the Pacific Northwest (Plateau Indian communities in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington) – in addition to the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. 
In addition to providing grants to strengthen the organizational and programmatic infrastructure of Native-led organizations and tribal programs under the NAI, First Nations has awarded more than $50,000 in mini-grants and travel stipends to Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota to support professional development of leadership and staff. Grant recipients utilized the mini-grants to attend professional development meetings, conferences and other trainings. First Nations will continue to support professional development opportunities for the staff of Native-led nonprofit organizations and tribal programs that serve Native American artists in 2017 in the expanded service area of the NAI. 

NAI-funded projects cover a variety of areas, including developing Native artists’ business skills, art gallery revitalization efforts, creating sustainable business and marketing plans for grantee organizations, establishing Artists Divisions within grantee organizations to bolster the organizational focus on art entrepreneurs, developing and implementing reservation-wide arts marketing programs, piloting an arts supply store, developing or expanding an artist cooperative, receiving grantwriting and other fundraising training to better position organizations to expand their revenue base and attending national arts conferences and trainings to expand grantee organizations’ networks and opportunities, among others.

NAI Grantee Training and Technical Assistance Opportunities

Besides direct project funding, First Nations provides NAI grantees with one-on-one technical assistance based on their needs identified in First Nations’ Capacity Assessment Tool. Typically this technical assistance is delivered via in-person trainings conducted by First Nations and its partners. In 2017, First Nations will offer NAI grantees several webinar trainings addressing best practices and strategies for strengthening organizational and programmatic evaluation activities.

2017 NAI Supporting Native Arts Grantees


2017 NAI Professional Development Grantees