Hunter C. Old Elk, curatorial assistant for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Plains Indian Museum, was recently accepted into the Western States Arts Federation’s (WESTAF) Emerging Leaders of Color (ELC) program, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. She accepted the fellowship in September 2017.
“I just returned from the annual conference in Denver, November 13–15, where I was the only representative from Wyoming,” Old Elk says. “WESTAF accepted just one person of color from each of the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. I’m honored to represent our state.”
The ELC workshop focused on leadership sessions such as policy-making; sustainability through demographic changes; the purchasing power minority groups will have in the future; and strategic foresight for diversity and inclusion in the arts.
“The rise and support of persons of color as art administrators is especially significant because of the influence we have in our communities—impacts that can truly further cultural institutions,” Old Elk explains. “We can help create relationships among marginalized communities which, in turn, can foster relevant spaces for ideas and healing.”
WESTAF is an organization committed to strengthening the financial, organizational, and policy infrastructure of the arts in thirteen western United States. To promote multicultural leadership and equity in the arts, WESTAF founded ELC in 2010 as an intensive program of professional development for persons of color, indigenous peoples, and underrepresented ethnic communities, who are under 35 years of age and who have worked in the arts and humanities for less than 10 years.
“As arts groups struggle to build audiences and meaningful connections among diverse communities, the ELC works to boost the careers and consciousness of future executive directors and nonprofit managers, advocates, activists, and decision-makers,” says Chrissy Deal, program associate of WESTAF’s Multicultural Initiative. The annual conference is only the first step for those in each year’s ELC class; afterward, members stay in touch professionally and creatively to share resources and follow-up on goals.
Old Elk is a member of the Crow Tribe of eastern Montana and the Yakama Tribe of Washington. As a high school student in Ashland, Montana, she traveled numerous times with St. Labre Indian School to the Center of the West. There, in a collaborative program between the two institutions, students connect in a unique way to their Native heritage while learning essential museum practices working directly with important collections objects. After high school, Old Elk attended Mount St. Mary’s University near Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a concentration in Native American history. She joined the Center staff in 2016 and now serves as curatorial assistant for the Plains Indian Museum. She is also a member of the strategic planning committee for St. Labre Indian School.
Since 1917, the award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, has devoted itself to sharing the story of the authentic American West. The Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. For additional information, visit centerofthewest.org or the Center’s Facebook page.