Creative Entrepreneurship in Zuni Pueblo

Child with traditional Zuni Pueblo attire

2018 is off to a bang and we’re proud to announce the awarding of two national grants to support our work in New Mexico, specifically in Zuni Pueblo. Creative Startups has been awarded a  2017 Ovation Foundation Creative Economy Innovation Grant and a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts OurTown Grant! Haven’t heard of our work in Zuni or the ArtWalk? We’ll fill ya in...

About 2.5 hours West of Albuquerque, New Mexico lies Zuni Pueblo. Zuni, the largest of New Mexico’s nineteen pueblos, has been inhabited for roughly 3000 to 4000 years, with a deep tradition of creative production. The people of Zuni include both fine artists and creative entrepreneurs known around the world for their amazing and unique work with pottery, silver, precious stones, and fetish carvings. In fact, 80% of the Zuni workforce is involved in the creative industries. Perhaps you even own one of these pieces of pottery or jewelry. If so, you might want to dig a little deeper into that “Made in Zuni” label.

Nearly 8,000 miles from Zuni, New Mexico you’ll find another Zuni —Zuni, Philippines. In response to steadily growing demand for American Indian cultural products since the 1980’s, one clever jewelry manufacturer set up shop in the Philippines and persuaded a village to re-name themselves “Zuni.” So while that fetish carving you bought at an art market might say “Made in Zuni,” there’s a good chance that it’s coming from the Philippines and not from an artist native to the Zuni Pueblo.

Fighting international art forgery and increasing revenue is an ongoing and difficult battle for Zuni artisans (and likely most all Native creatives). While Zuni’s geographic isolation has been essential to things like linguistic preservation, it's a detriment to the artists looking to create and scale sustainable businesses. As most Zuni artists work directly out of their homes, they frequently have to travel hours outside of the Pueblo to sell at art markets, and limited internet access on the Pueblo has stifled the development of online sales. Thus, the community identified the need to grow and localize economic activity, encourage a culture of authentic artistic consumption, and increase positive and mindful tourism.

What resulted, after four plus years of community driven dialogue, visioning, modeling, and research, is the concept of the Zuni Pueblo ArtWalk. The ArtWalk provides a self-guided tour for visitors to meet Zuni artisans in their home-workspaces, learn about artistic and cultural heritage, and shop directly from artists.

 What makes the ArtWalk successful and unique? We’ve  identified three key principles:

 1. The belief that democratizing entrepreneurship grows the creative economy for all.

At Creative Startups we believe in supporting and  accelerating creative entrepreneurs globally, and our work  with Zuni is given the same primacy as our work  in Albuquerque, Kuwait, or anywhere else in the world. As many have pointed out, increasing access to the resources and concepts needed to start and sustain a business isn’t charity, it’s critical to growing a robust and thriving creative economy for all. Entrepreneurship shouldn’t be limited by background, age, or geography, and the ArtWalk recognizes this through its openness to all creative entrepreneurs in the community.

 2. A Community Driven Process of “Economic Gardening” and development

The ArtWalk came not only out of collaborations between Creative Startups and Zuni artists, but alongside organizations like Zuni Pueblo Mainstreet (the only tribal Mainstreet in the US!), the Indigenous Design and Planning Institute at the University of New Mexico, the Zuni Visitors Center and Pueblo Government, and more. Prioritizing community engagement and feedback was key not only to the design and implementation of the ArtWalk, but also in guaranteeing that it met locally-identified needs. This process, encapsulated in the notion of “Economic Gardening,” focuses on strengthening pre-existing resources and growing entrepreneurial capacity and access, instead of looking outside the community.

3. A re-thinking of the concept of “creative placemaking” that places creative entrepreneurs in the driver's seat.

Creative placemaking, the notion of centering economic and urban development around the creative industries, tends to focus heavily on artistic interventions in community spaces: new murals, amphitheaters, or concert halls, for example. The Zuni ArtWalk challenges this understanding of creative placemaking by focusing less on modifying the physical space of the community, and instead reconsiders how all aspects of the community can be engaged to create an ecosystem that supports creatives culturally, spatially, and financially, and is driven by the vision of creative entrepreneurs. By engaging with creative entrepreneurs directly in their homes and places of work, visitors see and experience how creative entrepreneurship shapes the space of the Pueblo. As one of the earliest supporters of the ArtWalk, ArtPlace America recognized this innovative approach to creative placemaking and community development.

So next time you’re looking to add to your art or jewelry collection, consider buying directly from the artists and taking time to learn about the culture, community, and history that inspired those products. Join us at the first ArtWalk of the year, March 17th & 18th, and experience Zuni yourself!