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Dave Spencer

Hózhó: Walking in Beauty
Revitalizing the Arts in the Native American Community of Chicago

Photo by Dave Spencer, events at the American Indian Center in Chicago.

          Hózhó is a Diné word that means “to walk in beauty.” Walking in beauty translates to harmony: in order to live a positive life one must achieve balance everyday for the good of the People. This way of life sustains the vital components of language, spirituality, and values, for all Native people across the country. Utilizing the idea of Hózhó is apt in the process of revitalizing western-based art practices while offering a cultural connection and reconnection in the midst of rectifying ongoing cultural genocide for future generations.

            In the 21st century, Indigenous people from what is known as the “United States of America” compose the smallest ethnic population. According to the 2000 U. S. Census, 65% of all Native Peoples live off reservations. A significant problem facing urban inter-tribal communities is the deterioration of tribalism, specifically the lack of respective tribal practices and the absence of a land base. These newly developed inter-tribal communities commence a path to pan-Indianism because they require tribal-specific practices to be constructed across tribal lines, and the inter-mixing of traditional ways becomes the norm. For example, the American Indian Center of Chicago offers a shared space where northern tribal practices are abundant and willingly participated in by people of the southern nations. Thus, if this brand of inter-tribalism is embraced without question, Native people themselves permit the annihilation of respective tribal cultures.

            This project strives to provide awareness of the pursuit to help Native people attain balance through the improvement and strengthening of inactive and innovative art forms. Lessening existing cultural practices is not the answer, but a need to create diverse practices for inclusive, tribal-specific preservation is in order. After five hundred years of damaging images and unjust representation, the time has come for a First-Voice pedagogic platform for the internal community and, then, the larger, external community.

            The practice of Hózhó will consent to the idea of cultural ownership and a balanced community leading to a mended and empowered Circle. In the process of revitalization, the establishment of cultural preservation becomes an objective while re-connecting to tribalism and traditional values. Projects will allow activities for interaction, social change, understanding and discourse among the Chicago Native community—which constitutes 33,000 peoples—as well as the general public. In short, the goal is to utilize the arts to provide awareness and access and to build an infrastructure of communication and re-appropriation for the vitality of self-representation that leads to a platform of self-expression for self-determination.


          Dave Spencer received his BA in Visual Arts Management from Columbia College in 2001. He has been active in First-Voice public arts programming and co-curated Our Lives, an inaugural exhibition for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Dave has fundraised for the American Indian Center of Chicago and taught contemporary Native American art history.


Thesis Advisor: Nicholas Lowe Visiting Artist, Arts Administration

Thesis Reader: Giselle Mercier Instructor, Art Education
















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