Engaging college audiences and increasing awareness of abstract indigenous artists with the first major traveling exhibition analyzing modern Native American art from the mid-1940s through the 1970s.
Organized by The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and shown at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC) June 2022-January 2023, Action/Abstraction Redefined is the first major traveling exhibition analyzing modern Native American art from the mid-1940s through the 1970s. The exhibition was inspired by Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, and Hard-edge painting created by leading artists including George Morrison, Fritz Scholder, and T.C. Cannon.
In partnering with Art Bridges on an exhibition and Learning & Engagement project for Action/Abstraction Redefined, Colorado Springs FAC sought to build relationships and collaborate with college students and community members in their region. They also hoped to highlight visual representations of an expanded narrative about Indigenous art, and pilot new in-gallery technology to complement the artwork and stories on view.
The creation of a Colorado College Student Engagement Intern position was essential to the success in achieving the FAC’s goal to engage students and use new technology in the gallery. Student Engagement Intern Katie Norton developed events for students within the museum. Katie also presented student-centered interpretations of the artwork and amplified student voice and agency in shaping the experiences of her peer community.
A key program of the FAC was its Redefining Contemporary Native Art: Panel, Class and Workshop Series. Colorado College students and faculty participated in this three-part program over two days. Night one included a panel conversation moderated by Norton and featured artists Melanie Yazzie and Anna Tsouhlarakis, who contextualized the exhibition and artists within the larger art world.
“As a student moderator, I had a lot of fun,” said Norton. “I spent several weeks thinking and reworking my questions. It was unlike anything I had ever done before. It was excellent practice in public speaking, professionalism, collaboration, and learning how to know one’s audience.”
Day two included a Convergence Class and corresponding workshop where students and faculty from the English department investigated how artists, authors, and scholars think about presentations of knowledge and histories.
Norton also led the charge of incorporating new technology into the exhibition. The FAC used Matterport cameras and software to recreate the Action/Abstraction exhibition virtually and even added additional content, such as videos of the artists and related learning objectives, to further engage a student audience
Presenting Action/Abstraction Redefined allowed Colorado Springs FAC to center the voices and experiences of Indigenous artists rather than merely questioning why those voices aren’t always included in the dominant narrative. Through its multidisciplinary Learning & Engagement programs, the museum directly supported 758 Colorado College students and more than 7,000 public visitors through 14 engagements, including faculty-led class visits, workshops, artist panels, and art making.
We love that the Colorado Springs FAC created space for diverse stories to be told, strengthened ties to the local community through public programs, and offered the Colorado College campus multiple opportunities to engage with the museum in new ways.
The particular emphasis on empowering a student to design and lead programming is what made this project successful. Art Bridges is thrilled to not only support a student on their journey to a career in the arts, but also to support the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center goal to be more inclusive and relevant in their local communities.
Presenting Action/Abstraction Redefined allowed Colorado Springs FAC to center the voices and experiences of Indigenous artists rather than merely questioning why those voices are not always a part of the dominant narrative. Through their multidisciplinary Learning & Engagement programs, the museum directly supported 758 Colorado College students and more than 7,000 public visitors through 14 engagements including faculty-led class visits, workshops, artist panels, and art making.