ZUNI, NM (Aug. 4, 2022) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project announced today that 22 students have completed its Emerging Artists Apprenticeship Program to date. The new program, which is made possible with support from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) and the Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni (ARTZ) Cooperative, began this spring.

During the first six-week session, from March 22 to May 15, 13 students ages 11 to 22 studied two-dimensional graphic design. Under the direction of lead instructor Keith Edaakie and assistant Leanne Lee, the young people developed and expanded their drawing skills and then learned to use their artwork in creative disciplines such as printmaking and sublimation.

The second six-week session focused on Zuni Pueblo pottery. From May 24 to July 8, nine students ages 12 to 20 worked closely with co-lead instructors Gaylon Westika and Bobby Silas — and according to apprentice Cassandra Tsalate, the session involved so much more than skills development.

“We learned about the traditional and cultural aspects of Zuni pottery, including the significance of the many designs and forms,” she explained. “Pottery is more than just an art form. It’s all of our riches, our tools, our identity, and even our protector. The clay itself is sacred; it’s the flesh of our Mother Earth.”

Members of the first apprenticeship cohort participated in the 5th annual Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival in Bernalillo, New Mexico, on May 14-15. Members of the second cohort took part in the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) Heritage Festival in Flagstaff, Arizona, on July 2-3.

“They picked the top three students, and I was so fortunate to be able to go,” Tsalate said. “We also were part of an all-student art show in Zuni. I enjoyed the experience, both times. I learned to talk with customers, Native and non-Native, telling them about the history and our techniques and methods. I’m kind of shy, so I didn’t think I’d be the sort of person to do that. I’m proud of myself.”

Tahlia Natachu, ZYEP’s executive director, noted that the Emerging Artists Apprenticeship Program is designed to strengthen the connection Zuni youth have with their culture, cultivate the next generation of culture bearers through connection with master artists, and encourage entrepreneurship through a culturally informed and relevant lens.

“Our youth programming has always included arts and crafts to inspire and empower our children,” Natachu said. “They are the ones who will preserve our traditions and carry them forward. This new program is a natural extension of that.”

Through Friday, Aug. 12, ZYEP is accepting applications for the third session of the Emerging Artists Apprenticeship Program. It will focus on Zuni Pueblo embroidery under the direction of co-lead instructors Elroy Natachu Jr. and Kandis Quam, who also serve as ZYEP’s art coordinator and art leader, respectively.

“We’re accepting 12 students, ages 12-24,” Executive Director Tahlia Natachu said. “We’re really looking forward to teaching our young people about the history of Pueblo textiles from a Zuni perspective.

“We’re so grateful to the ANA, the ARTZ Cooperative, our artist committee members, and Elroy and Kandis for this program possible,” she continued. “Down the road, our long-term goal is to offer advanced one-on-one programming for those students who have completed the Emerging Artist level and wish to continue their journey.”

Together, ZYEP and ARTZ seek to empower the next generation of Zuni artists so they can pursue careers in the arts as well as help strengthen the Pueblo of Zuni’s arts economy. While that economy has been dominated for decades by outside buyers buying low and selling high, that is changing through the rise of Native co-ops, independent businesses, and art shows.

“Our kids are learning how to do things differently,” Natachu observed. “Leveraging technology, taking on leadership roles, and advocating for themselves and their community — these things have real transformative power.”

To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit zyep.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), and YouTube (/ZuniYouth).


Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.