A VOICE awarded National Endowment for the Arts grant | News

Char-Koosta News 

PABLO — The National Endowment for the Arts announced last week the awardees of its $57.75 million American Rescue Plan arts grants. The 567 awardees were among 7,500 grant applicants, and among 567 awardees were five Montana art-based non-profit entities. Among the five Montana grant recipients is the Pablo based A VOICE (Art Vision & Outreach in Community Education) of Pablo. 

“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 rebuild and reopen,” said NEA Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson. “The arts are crucial to helping America’s communities heal, unite, and inspire as well as essential to our nation’s economic recovery.” 

A VOICE is a non-profit entity on the Flathead Reservation, that teaches photography at the Two Eagle River School. It is headed by photographer David Spear, and it has a board of directors. A VOICE received a $100,000 NEA grant. 

The first six years of the photography program were funded by non-profit grants under the umbrella of the CSKT. Following that, Spear founded the non-profit A VOICE that has funded the TERS photography program since. He said having the non-profit allows him, in cahoots with the board, to establish momentum in carrying out its mission.

The photography program at TERS began in January 2002, after Spear’s discussions with then Superintendent Clarice King. As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the endeavor, Spear is considering ways to commemorate it. 

“We’re excited about the anniversary,” he said. “We are looking at doing something in the fall.”

Before Spear’s photography at TERS, a similar effort was headed by then-teacher George Price. 

“Tradition is important. George established that and I just picked up the momentum that he initiated,” Spear said. Price went on to further his education at the University of Montana then taught there for 20 years before retiring a few years back. 

Spear said the tribal youth that partake in the TERS photography program have a unique outlook on the world they live in that is not well known to the larger populace of America, and the world. By being involved in photography their vision gets exposed to the world beginning on the Flathead Reservation, the state and beyond. Students have made trips to New York City, and New Mexico to photograph those areas and to exhibit their photos. 

“The kids make incredible work. They get it. They see that their work is unique, important and it gets a good response all around,” Spear said. “Their perspective is all ingrained in what they care about — their tribal culture. The camera is a tool to explain the tribal culture here on the Flathead Reservation. I help guide the photography process and they run with it.” 

This NEA grant is the fifth that was awarded to A VOICE. Spear said the unique tribal culture centered quality photography has enabled A VOICE and its students compete nationally for NEA grants. 

“When I see the students get it — the importance of photography and them doing it well it is so inspiring,” Spear said. “They will have this — the ability to communicate — the remainder of their lives.”

The five grants awarded in Montana totaled of $650,000. Montana Times Arts of Bozeman received $150,000, Archie Bray Foundation of Helena received $150,000, Western Montana Creative Initiative of Missoula received $100,000, Zootown Arts Community Center received $150,000, and A VOICE (Art Vision & Outreach in Community Education) of Pablo received $100,000.

The organizations may use this funding to save jobs, and to fund operations and facilities, health and safety supplies, and marketing and promotional efforts to encourage attendance and participation. 

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965. It is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. 

• To learn more about A VOICE, visit www.avoice-outreach.org

• To learn more about the NEA, visit arts.gov or follow NEA on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube

Robert G. Mull

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