Landscape artist Apolonia Susana Santos, a member of the Tygh Band Indians and Yakima Nation, died altogether too young at age 52.
But she left a legacy that has changed the lives and career paths of more than 100 indigenous youth. The A. Susana Santos Journeys in Creativity, which she and master weaver Pat Courtney Gold founded in 2003, is a pre-college program of Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC), a two-week arts immersion for 12 Native teens, aged 15-19, who are hoping to attend college or pursue careers in the arts. (Read about the A. Susana Santos Journeys in Creativity program.)The program moves into its 10th anniversary year, from June 16 to June 29, 2013.
The 2013 curriculum consists of workshops in drawing, painting, weaving, carving and ceramics, and are woven in with artist lectures, field trips, research and a focus on Native American tradition. Each year students come from all over Oregon and North America. This year’s group hails from Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, Washington and British Columbia. One year, in a rare move, OCAC welcomed two Maori students from New Zealand. Some years the program is themed.
In 2011, “The Art of the Canoe,” focused on canoe design and carving. The two week camp was enhanced by a canoe trip from Corvallis to Albany, Oregon along the Willamette River. Said Program Director Shirod Younker, “My father brought the Coquille Indian Tribe’s canoe up from Coos Bay, and Bobby Mercier, skipper for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde skipper invited the youth program to paddle alongside their canoe family. The students were able to participate in a cultural experience they wouldn’t have normally experienced.”
The main goal of the program is to encourage Native students to think about college and a potential career in the arts. During the two week sessions, they live in college dorms; they meet with artists, gallery owners, historians, and museum curators.
The group works 8am-5pm, spending 60 to 80 hours in workshops alone. “When they are done here, that hopefully progresses them toward taking their next step,” said Younker. At end of their two weeks, the students curate a year-long traveling show of their art. Past shows have gone to Maryhill Museum and The Evergreen State College in Washington state and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.
Younker follows several past students and says most are doing well. “A few are going to art school and some are working as artists,” said Younker. Graduates also became firefighters and electricians, and one works in marine biology. Another former student works in Florida as a makeup artist. One of the Maori students moved to Australia for work. Of the program, Younker said, “The kids love it. A lot of them don’t realize how unique the program is until after they’ve graduated. Up until last year ours was the only pre-college Native American art program in the country,” he said. “We may still be the only ones offering it for free.”
Apolonia Susana Santos would be proud. In 2012 the A. Susana Santos Journeys in Creativity received a $30,000 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, in 2013 the project received $10,000.