September 29, 2022—East Hampton —Guild Hall, artists Wunetu Wequai Tarrant, and Christian Scheider, and the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge announced that they have received an Artist Employment Program (AEP) grant from Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY). Designed to support employment opportunities for artists, the program is funding 98 collaborations involving a dynamic group of 300 artists employed by community-based organizations, municipalities, and tribal governments across New York State. CRNY has awarded a total of $49.9 million in funding to support artists’ salaries and benefits, with an additional $11.7 million in funding provided to the organizations holding employment. Guild Hall will receive $407,800 to disperse in support of the collaboration with the artists and the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, including artists’ salaries and benefits for two years.
Wunetu Wequai Tarrant and Christian Scheider will work with Guild Hall for the next two years, from summer 2022 through 2024, as Guild Hall Community Artists-in-Residence. During this time, they will further develop the ongoing work of the First Literature Project which utilizes immersive 3D, VR, and holographic technology to achieve the simplest, oldest thing: sitting across from someone as they tell you a story. This new archive will situate Orators in a virtual environment, offering Native nations, tribes and peoples a novel way to author and re-author their ancient oral traditions for the modern age.
Wunetu Wequai Tarrant states, “The First Literature Project is centered on creating a new platform that offers advanced support for Indigenous peoples to preserve their storytelling traditions, using modern technology to create an immersive experience. The first three short Orations in development come from the Shinnecock culture of Long Island NY and will include an adaptation of Padawe, A Story of the Whale Hunt, written by Elizabeth Chee Chee ThunderBird Haile. The story takes place in pre-colonial Shinnecock Territory and will be narrated for the first time in the re-awakening Shinnecock language. With the help of a few dedicated community researchers and academic consultants, this production will be the first of its kind spoken in the Shinnecock language, which has been classified as critically endangered and considered sleeping for the past 100 years. The second Oration brings the Indigenous perspective of the Circassian Shipwreck, 1876, in which 10 Shinnecock men perished off the coast of Mecox Bay. The third Oration in our initial series is a retelling of the life of our ancestor, Stephen Talkhouse, and his travels on land and sea through the mid 1800s.”
“The significance of having a platform to share our history cannot be understated,” continued Ms. Tarrant. “A wealth of knowledge is left out when the only accounts of Indigenous cultures available are written by outside anthropologists and authors. The First Literature Project’s method will bring our stories into the 21st century, using our voices, our faces, and sharing our perspectives.”
For the first three Orations, The First Literature Project will work closely with the Shinnecock community through the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, a nonprofit organization that supports the needs of the Shinnecock people and advocates for the protection of ancestral lands and ancient burial grounds. By sitting with Shinnecock elders and young people, the project will gather what is needed to create artistically rendered immersive experiences, that honor the ancient tradition of in-person storytelling. In addition, the First Literature Project will assist Padoquohan Medicine Lodge in creating a video archive of historical footage and interviews with Shinnecock tribal members, helping to preserve their family histories and honoring their ancestors by acknowledging their lives and the significant contributions they made toward the preservation of their people, land, and traditions throughout the recent time of genocide and ongoing cultural assimilation. The First Literature Project will document the resilience, dignity, sovereignty, and strength of modern Indigenous people.
“We hope that moving forward, we will be able to provide documentation and production services to other Indigenous and First Nation communities, as there is a dire need for the inclusion of the Indigenous perspective, one which has historically been left out the world over,” said Ms. Tarrant.
“When, in any society, citizens can no longer imagine and articulate what an ideal world should be, we have arrived at a crisis. That articulation, and the capacity for it, has always begun with story,” Mr. Scheider said.
“I come from the traditions of American theater and film — and I believe that’s as close as we have to a ‘national’ oral tradition in America today,” Scheider continued. “But whatthese modern American forms lack is a sense of continuation from one generation to the next; the taking of stories deep into our own lives, and then passing them down to those who come after us, person to person. I’m not sure that’s how the average person approaches a film or a stage-work when they sit down in the theater. The First Literature Project is by and for Native people, but it is also a platform that points the rest of us toward a different, older way of listening. As much as the platform is a new way of presenting, it is also an opportunity to listen in a new way.”
“As one of my heroes N Scott Momaday reminds us, this must include presence, gesture, look, and, most importantly, it must include silence. I grew up hearing Wunetu’s grandmother, Elizabeth Thunderbird Haile, as she told us her stories in school, Shinnecock stories, but some of them were of her own creation — they became Shinnecock stories right then and there. We would anticipate what might come, we would reflect in the moment as to what had been spoken, and then she would ask us through her look, ‘what might come next?’ That contains the meaning of all storytelling to me — to ask each listener implicitly, ‘What is to come next for you?’ What will be your role in this story? The First Literature Project attempts to recommit to this deep sense of continuity, to authorship and re-authorship as an ongoing act. This is the work that the First Literature Project facilitates, first and by example with Native Nations, and then for all of us. We non-Native folks have a lot to learn.”
Artist Employment Program recipients were selected through a two-stage process by a group of twenty external peer reviewers alongside CRNY staff. From an initial pool of over 2,700 written applications, 167 were shortlisted for interviews with reviewers.
To view the list of 98 Artist Employment Program participants, visit https://www.creativesrebuildny.org/participants/.
“If we are to truly rebuild our amazing state, we must celebrate artists’ contributions not only to the economy but to what makes us human,” says Creatives Rebuild New York’s Executive Director Sarah Calderon. “The incredible work being funded through CRNY’s Artist Employment Program underscores the importance of direct support for both individual artists and the organizations that hold their employment.”
For more information about Creatives Rebuild New York’s Artist Employment Program, please visit creativesrebuildny.org.