Native Arts and Cultures: Research, Growth and Opportunities for Philanthropic Support

Ford Foundation



For more than four decades, the Ford Foundation has supported American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities as they shape their visions for the future. Continuing this collaborative work, the foundation launched the Indigenous Knowledge and Expressive Culture grant-making initiative in 2003. Led by Program Officer Elizabeth Theobald Richards, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, this work enhanced the foundation’s longstanding commitment in Indian Country with a specific focus on supporting artistic and cultural expression. From 2003 to 2009, the grant making centered on supporting Native American artists and organizations in affirming cultural values, perspectives and leadership within their communities and the larger national arts dialogue.

Three research reports were also commissioned by the foundation during this period. The cumulative results of this research indicated the inadequacy of philanthropic support for Native arts and artists, and also acknowledged that the support Native arts and artists do receive goes a long way. An evaluation of early grant making found that grantees were able to leverage funding and spread additional dollars—and artistic creation—among community members for greater economic and community impact. Grants also helped make possible new professional connections and professional development opportunities for individual artists and organizations.

The Ford Foundation is issuing this summary of the three reports as a guide to those interested in funding and supporting Native arts and cultures and in collaborating with Native communities.



  • Evaluation
  • Partnership


  • Northern America

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