The educator established the Indigenous Youth Digital Collective and curated OSF’s Visual Sovereignty Project
By Edwin Battistella for Ashland.news
The third round of the prestigious Fields Artist Fellowship, established in 2011, was awarded to four Oregon artists, including Ashland artist Chava Florendo, whose work cultivates social change in their communities. Each will receive $150,000 over two years to support their art.
Florendo said she “was really surprised and overwhelmed that I had been chosen from an amazing field of artists.”
The fellowship may only be the second most exciting event in Florendo’s life recently. As 2024 arrived, she and her husband, Nathe Suter, welcomed a new addition to their family, a son.
It’s going to be a busy next two years for Florendo.
Work with Indigenous youths
A multidisciplinary digital artist and educator, Florendo draws on her Wasco, Oregon, roots for her art. Stories and traditions inform her work, motivating her to create opportunities for Indigenous youth and artists. She established the Indigenous Youth Digital Collective, a project funded by a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust in which young people developed digital story projects. She also curated the Visual Sovereignty Project with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a digital commissioning project for Indigenous artists.
As a performer, she sang for “How Can You Own the Sky?,” a symphonic poem by Ethan Gans-Morse, which was commissioned by the Rogue Valley Symphony, and she performed in the Native American musical “Distant Thunder.” Her accomplishments as an educator include work with Native youth as part of the Konaway Nika Tillicum program at her alma mater, Southern Oregon University.
Chey Kuzma, the associate program officer for Arts & Culture at the Oregon Community Foundation, described Florendo as “an artist who is truly building multigenerational connections through her work.“ Kuzma added that, “Through her art, storytelling and the value she places on resources within the community, she is successfully incorporating a relational worldview into her work, which can easily get lost when one is viewed as a singular artist. Her efforts will have ripple effects for years to come.”
‘Deeply invested in stories’
Robert Arellano, founding director of the Emerging Media and Digital Arts program at SOU, said, “Chava’s work is deeply invested in stories, how we teach and use them and give others opportunities to carry them. And her dedication to community through programs like the Indigenous Youth Digital Collective really epitomizes what to my understanding are the criteria of excellence for a Fields Artist Fellow.“
Florendo said she is also now looking forward “to focusing some energy (and resources) on my own artistic practice and space to create in.”
Three additional Fields fellows named
The three other Fields fellows this award cycle are Myles de Bastion of Portland, Scott Kalama of Warm Springs, and Eduardo Melendrez of Ontario. De Bastion creates immersive art installations that focus on deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, Kalama leads drum-making classes and music workshops for youths, and Melendrez paints portraits and mentors youths through boxing.
The Fields Fellowship awards are made by a selection committee tapped by Oregon Humanities and the Oregon Community Foundation that takes into consideration the depth and resonance of applicants’ artistic or cultural practice, the potential for the fellowship to advance their work and career, and applicants’ demonstrated experience working toward social change through creative and cultural practices.
In addition to the fellowship funding, fellows receive professional development, networking and community-building opportunities throughout the fellowship. Jerry Tischleder, senior program officer for Arts & Culture at OCF, said, “The program is structured so that fellows will spend time together in person twice a year to build relationships, learn from each other, participate in workshops and meet other artists from across the state. They will also be invited to participate in Oregon Community Foundation and Oregon Humanities ongoing programming and community events.”.
Edwin Battistella is a writer based in Ashland.