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Announcement of the founding of the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts in Cherokee

November 13, 2006

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) unveiled today an Associate in Fine Arts program to be offered at the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts (OICA).

Cecil Groves, Michell Hicks, John Bardo
Principal Chief Michell Hicks is the first to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with Southwestern Community College president Dr. Cecil Groves, left, and WCU chancellor for the founding of the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts in Cherokee.

The Institute and the AFA curriculum program will be launched in Spring 2007.

The announcement came during a public meeting at Harrah's Cherokee Casino and Hotel at which representatives of the Tribe stated that the AFA would focus on Native American art and culture, most notably that of the Cherokee.

"This will be the only such program east of the Mississippi and represents a progressive, landmark initiative for the EBCI," Principal Chief Michell Hicks said. "The Institute will provide an opportunity for existing artists to seek a higher vision and step up to train new artists, teaching them the traditional Cherokee ways."

Hicks went on to say that the Institute will also offer economic benefits to the community and called on all to "encourage our artistic young people to continue on with their talent in the arts in school and then at the Institute. This AFA curriculum will enable students to immerse themselves in a study of the arts associated with our native peoples and also obtain general educational credits required by the state's public colleges and universities."

Chief Hicks also acknowledged the contribution of former chief, the late Leon Jones, who initiated the concept of a tribal college for the Eastern Band.

The Associate in Fine Arts program will be offered through Southwestern Community College. Speaking at the meeting, SCC president, Dr. Cecil Groves, noted that "the region is richly blessed with artistic and cultural contributions of the Cherokee. We want to preserve, recognize and celebrate these rich cultural resources and the artistic contributions and capabilities of the Cherokee people.

"Together Southwestern and the OICA have established an articulation agreement with Western Carolina University, through which students who graduate from the program will be able to transfer to WCU as juniors pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The focus will be on studio arts in visual, textiles, performance, cultural and technical studies.

"Part of the program will be to look at contemporary arts with traditional values. It will be an enormously enriching endeavor. SCC will offer the Associate of Arts degree for the Institute and it is a privilege to join in this undertaking. The signing today of this Memorandum of Understanding represents a seamless web of cooperation among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, SCC and WCU and has both regional and national significance as it recognizes the wonderful contribution culturally the Cherokee have made to this region and to the nation."

WCU Chancellor John Bardo began his comments focusing on the economic benefits the Institute and its graduates will have for Cherokee and the region.

"The university has a tradition of working in economic development in the region. We understand the great value arts have as an economic issue," he said. "Economics is a big part of why we want to be involved in supporting this project.

"But this institute goes way beyond economics. It's through the arts that we see the expressions and values of a people. Through the Institute you will be able to preserve your traditional arts, your culture, and bring your people into this new era. We are pleased that the university can be a part of this."

According to Juanita Wilson, OICA Advisory Board Chair and Deputy Administrative Officer, EBCI Community Education and Recreation Services Division, the AFA will include both core course and studio arts credits.

"While a segment of the curriculum will follow the general education requirements for the NC community colleges and public universities, the arts curriculum will focus on studio arts in visual, textiles, performance, cultural and technical studies. We are very excited about both the Center and the Fine Arts curriculum and appreciate the efforts of the forward thinking people who are involved in making this a reality on the Boundary."

According to Wilson, the studio arts curriculum offerings will include both contemporary and traditional Cherokee arts such as basketry/weaving, pottery, beadwork, mask making, sculpture, woodcarving, and stone carving. In addition the performance arts of dance, drama, story telling and music (choral and instrumental) will be an integral component of the program. Students will also gain knowledge of Native culture and elements of daily life. Also photography, printmaking, graphic design, audio-visual, and web design are among the studies.

Wilson stated that the EBCI will provide support funding for the start up and short-term sustainability of the program, plus tuition for students who are enrolled members of the EBCI. Tuition will be provided through the EBCI Higher Education and Training Program.

According to Barbara Putman, SCC dean of Arts and Sciences, the program can sustain itself by recruiting 25 or more students.

"Southwestern will concentrate on that goal by recruiting both Cherokee students and students from outside the enrolled membership," Putman said. "We want to create student "cohorts," that will provide a nurturing and encouraging environment throughout the education process. Each year, as the program is marketed, additional cohorts will enroll in the program," she said.

"While non-EBCI students will have to pay their own tuition and fees, tuition at SCC is a fraction of what it would be at a university or private college," Putnam said. "Also, with a faculty who place their primary focus on teaching, students at SCC and at the Oconaluftee Institute for the Cultural Arts will receive a high level of learning with quality instruction. This fine arts program will be singular both in its curriculum and in the one-on-one relationship students and faculty will have together."

Putman stated that the college will soon begin a national search for a program coordinator to head the AFA program.

"Working with the Institute, we will seek and locate a coordinator to be on board in late 2006 or early 2007," she said.

The media event included traditional dances by the Mulberry Dancers, a performance by preschoolers in the "Curious Ones" from the Cherokee Language Immersion classrooms, a storytelling by Yona Wade of the Legend of Long Man, and the Young Voices who sang "Evening Song" in Cherokee to close the event.

For information on enrolling in the AFA program at Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts, contact the SCC Arts and Sciences Division at 800.447.4091 or 828.586.4091, ext. 300, or visit to apply.


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