Lorén M. Spears, Narragansett, Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum, holds a Masters in Education and has received numerous awards, including a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Rhode Island for her work. She is an author, traditional artist and shares her cultural knowledge with the public through museum programs. She is also a council member of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
LS: Yesterday I went to Providence as I serve on the MET School Board for an 8am meeting then went to the Secretary of State’s Office for the RI Historical Records Advisory Board (newly appointed by Governor Raimondo) for that meeting. After that meeting I stopped into an unique vintage shop and bought my nephew a gift to go with his traditional regalia, it was this amazing mink stole! He is an MET high school intern at Tomaquag and is focused on education and fashion design. He designed his last two grass dance outfits. Back in the office, I met with staff about various projects from collections, archives, education, retail and the Indigenous Empowerment Network. I spent quite a bit of time responding to emails, following up on partnerships, and preparing for grant writing & reports.
RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?
LS: I love the diversity. I love the partnerships we have across the state. We have wonderful partnerships that allow the Indigenous viewpoint, voice and culture to be included. The partnership with Avenue Concept Project & Gaia an international street artist produced an amazing mural spotlighting Lynsea Montanari, a Narragansett, artist, cultural educator, college student and Millennial, holding a photograph of Princess Red Wing, Narragansett- Wampanoag Sachem, Educator and Culture Bearer. There are so many partnerships to mention but we are proud to be a partner with RISCA since its first Eastern Woodland Native American Art Show. Each year, the show becomes even more vibrant. We are partnered right now with the University of Rhode Island’s Fine Arts Gallery for the show, Yo Nuweekun; We Dwell Here. It continues until March 1st. We have worked with many organizations to bring Indigenous arts into visibility within our homelands. Check out the painted cairn in Roger Williams National Memorial Park, painted by Tomaquag Narragansett Interns Robin Spears III & Lynsea Montanari. We partner annually with the Rhythm & Roots Festival in Charlestown, RI over Labor Day weekend. It includes an Narragansett elder Dawn Dove, providing the opening welcome & blessing; Native Artist collaborative vendor tent; free daily art workshops; storyteller Thawn Harris in Family tent; and last year The Groovolottos, a funk R&B band, performed in the Roots Tent. Through all of these artist partnerships, we want Rhode Islanders & Tourists alike to know “We Are Still Here” and to learn about our history, culture and contemporary lives through the arts.
RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
LS: It is my Homeland, as a Narragansett. We are the First Peoples of this place. Our ancestors are here. However, I was born in Spokane, Washington, as my father was in the Air Force. We moved back home when I was two. I have no memory of our time there. This is my home.
RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
LS: Visibility for the smaller yet impactful community arts organizations, they make Rhode Island vibrant, serve their community, and impact Rhode Island through tourism, economic investment and quality of life.
RISCA: What Rhode Island artists and/or arts organizations most inspire you and why?
LS: There are so many wonderful and impactful RI artists and arts organizations that I struggle to narrow it down but I will name a few. Holly Ewald, UPPArts for her ability to use art for environmental change and creating a coalition of folks to join her from all walks of life. Valerie Tutson, RIBS, for bringing untold history to life through storytelling. Dawn Spears, NIAA & Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative, for supporting New England Native artists’ development via NEFA, her own artwork, design work, arts leadership and integrating arts into all her advocacy. Nancy Brown Garcia, Narragansett, for the world record for smallest beadwork. Allen Hazard, for his wampum art, willingness to mentor other artists and share his story with the world. My husband, Robin Spears, Jr. for expressing our history, culture, ecological knowledge through his art, for inspiring others, and for passing his gifts to our children, all traditional artists. For the late, Ella Seketau, along with Alberta Wilcox and the late Diosa Summers, who at various times taught me to Fingerweave and twine. I am forever grateful, as it is an artform, I love and am blessed to share with others. To all my tribal elders, family, and especially my mother, Dawn Dove, who shared their cultural, arts knowledge with me and empowered me to share it with my family and community. Kutaputush! Thank you!