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Shaliyah Ben Named Director of Native American Arts Program

Native American Arts Are in Strong Hands at Idyllwild Arts

Idyllwild Arts is pleased to announce that Shaliyah Ben has been named Director of the Native American Arts Program by Idyllwild Arts Foundation President Pamela Jordan. Under the guidance of Heather Companiott, Idyllwild Arts’ Native American Arts Program became a formidable player in the world of Native American arts in recent decades. Ben, who worked closely with Companiott for the last two and half years until her recent retirement, is supremely qualified to continue building upon this strong foundation to solidify the program’s leading role in the continued growth and recognition of Idyllwild Arts as an internationally renowned center for arts education. 

A Transformative Presence to Drive Transformation

Shaliyah Ben, Diné (Navajo), was born in Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation and is the first Native American to direct the Idyllwild Arts Native American Arts Program. Before coming to Idyllwild Arts in 2019, she worked at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, an institution dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art. During twenty years with the Heard, her positions included Director of Public Programming

Ben’s profound understanding of Native American traditions is rooted in her family’s continuing practice of traditional farming methods, but she is also determined to position Native American art, life, history, and pedagogies as relevant to the modern global conversation. The breadth of her education at Arizona State University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in French as well as certificates in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, suggests her desire and ability to connect Native American arts to the wider world. 

Seeking the Full Integration of Native American Arts

Education and promotion of Native American arts have been central to the work of Idyllwild Arts ever since the Foundation’s establishment shortly after the end of the Second World War. While the popular Native American Arts Summer Workshops and Native American Arts Festival

Week & Exhibition will continue to flourish and grow, in her new role Ben will also work to further integrate the Native American Arts Program into Idyllwild Arts’ mission of “changing lives through the transformative power of art.” 

This integration will both strengthen the pursuit of that mission and bring lasting benefits to the Native American arts community, driving the implementation of Indigenous pedagogies in the classroom, on the stage, on the set, and in the studio while recognizing the extraordinary contributions of Indigenous people to science, mathematics, language arts, and history. By promoting this integration of Indigenous perspectives, Idyllwild Arts will actively take steps toward dismantling long-held attitudes that position Indigenous people and other people of color within an inferior past. 

Reconciliation and Humility

The integration of Indigenous perspectives will take one of its most dramatically visible forms in a land stewardship initiative in partnership with the Native American Land Conservancy. While “land acknowledgement” statements have sometimes been criticized as hollow or performative, the goal of this partnership is to create a living and breathing land acknowledgement that puts words into daily action. By engaging in appropriate care for the land, the partnership is intended as a transformative step toward reconciliation with local Cahuilla communities on whose tribal land the Idyllwild Arts campus rests, and to respectfully demonstrate an authentic interest and investment in connecting the Foundation’s community with their own. 

There is considerable irony in Idyllwild Arts’ devotion to these efforts; Idyllwild Arts Academy is a boarding school, and boarding schools have an ugly history in relation to Indigenous people. Idyllwild Arts cannot erase this, but it can acknowledge and teach that history—not only to Native American students, but to itself. And from this lesson Idyllwild Arts can draw the determination to provide to Native students a learning experience that will be radically different from the experience found at US Indian Federal boarding schools of the past. Idyllwild Arts can provide an education that honors the culture of Native American students and that gives them the support they need in order to succeed here. 

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