CATOOSA – In July, as summer began to tighten its grip on northeast Oklahoma, several sponsors braved the heat for a few evenings to announce the start of an organization celebrating Native American art.

The Route 66 Native Arts Alliance’s July 6-8 ‘launch’ featured live music with featured Cherokee Nation citizen Becky Hobbs, a street fair and food trucks, as well as a gala at the Bella Donna Event Center. The Catoosa Historical Society has announced that potter Cherokee Crystal Hanna and Comanche painter-flautist Tim Nevaquaya are its star performers for July. The launch also included art exhibitions at four venues.

“It’s a new organization,” said tribal councilor and sponsor Joe Deere. “I wanted to be part of it. Sure, it’s in District 13, but we have so many great artists here.

Several local organizations, including the town of Catoosa and its chamber of commerce, are helping the Route 66 Native Arts Alliance accelerate, and the idea was born when the community heard about the hardships indigenous artists face with COVID-19.

“We got a call from Crystal Hanna, and she said they haven’t had any shows for almost two years,” said CN citizen Betsy Swimmer of the Swimmer Group at Chinowth and Cohen and vice president of the alliance. “She said ‘COVID has really devastated our community.’ She wondered if there was a way to put on a show here.

Ultimately, an art exhibit was combined with a nonprofit cancer benefit.

“We actually had our first show there, on Route 66, and it all took off from there,” Swimmer said. “We thought we really needed native artists on Route 66. It is the gateway to the Cherokee Nation and a place where the Cherokee art market started.”

Although the alliance is a “Cherokee” organization with many Cherokees on its all-Indigenous board of directors, it seeks participation from Indigenous artists of all tribal affiliations – as the name suggests.

Swimmer said attendance actually exceeded COVID-tinged expectations of Native Arts Alliance organizers.

“We had a show with about 20 artists,” she said. “For this show, we are expecting about fifty artists spread over four sites, because we do not have a large enough room. “

Therefore, plans for Route 66 Native Arts Alliance include an Indigenous Arts Center in Catoosa.

“Our vision is to build one,” Swimmer said. “We have a rendering of what we would really like to build…. We have a lot to do here.

Patty Brannock, sales associate for The Swimmer Group, said the enthusiasm of Catoosa’s residency has boosted her involvement in the alliance.

“We had an event last October where we presented Aboriginal artists in a different venue,” said Brannock. “The community embraced it so much and the artists loved being here so much. It was a natural draw when people started talking about the creation of the arts alliance. I wanted to be part of it. There is a vision for the Route 66 corridor to promote Aboriginal artisans along this route…. These things have a bright future. Seeing the magnificent works of art by these artists has been a blessing.

Alliance events can be followed on Facebook at “RT 66 Native Arts Alliance”. There are monthly meetings and “Spotlight Series” exhibitions each month at the Catoosa Historical Society showcasing the work of a particular artist.

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