ZUNI, NM (Mar. 27, 2023) — With support from Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni (ARTZ) and Administration for Native Americans (ANA), art students from the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s Emerging Artist Apprenticeship Program had the opportunity to show their original work on Friday, March 10. Eighteen apprentices ages 12 to 21 participated in the showcase at the ARTZ Cooperative in the Pueblo of Zuni, and collectively, they sold more than $2,000 worth of art.

Subject matter ranged from pop culture and cartoons to Zuni culture and history. Many of the older youth also infused their work with more in-depth self-expression, revealing how they felt at the time or sharing the stories of significant life events.

“The subject matter was so broad, it made the art show really unique,” said Elroy Natachu Jr., ZYEP’s art coordinator. “It encompassed so many different areas, and it hit community members in different ways.

“The apprentices were scared at first, but when the community arrived, they became salespeople,” he added. “The paintings sold like hotcakes! By the end of the night, they were exhausted but had a great sense of accomplishment. Not only did they catch a glimpse of what it’s really like to be show artists, $2,000 in one night is incredible.”

The art showcase concluded the apprentices’ two-dimensional art program at ZYEP, which began in January. With a wide range of experience among the art students, instructors Dennis Dewa Jr. and Mallery Quetawki carefully assessed each young person’s skill level so they could build individual lesson plans.

“ZYEP is honored that amazing Zuni artisans like Dewa, Quetawki and our past instructors are always willing to teach these apprenticeships in order to pass on the tradition of Zuni art to our youth,” Natachu said.

“The apprenticeship program has given us, as artists, opportunities to contribute to so many moving parts of our community,” Quetawki said. “In our generation and the generations before, our only opportunities for art mentorship involved joining the craft of our parents and family for its economical purposes — and whatever we could absorb from the school systems here in Zuni. We grew as individual artists from there.

“This opportunity given to us by ZYEP allows us to teach the young artists to grow with one another as a community of artists,” she continued. “(It’s) a way to embrace everyone’s art, and to find your pathway in the journey of becoming a professional artist or of making art for personal growth and self-care.”

Quetawki also noted that the Emerging Artist Apprenticeship supports cultural and language preservation, as the young artists are learning to express themselves with Zuni cultural teachings.

“This was an opportunity to show the younger artists that we are open to sharing our ways, as our ways are part of the Zuni Way,” she said. “It is important to continue passing down this knowledge.”

During this six-week winter session, the Emerging Art Apprentices learned about grayscale, value systems, shadowing, use of light, perspective and composition. They also delved into color theory and texture, and they learned to blend their own colors.

“We did exercises that encouraged the artists to think about colors and how they interact,” Natachu said. “They explored paint thickness and different brushes as they expanded their skill set. They worked with mixed media as well, exploring different textures and how those would affect the paint.”

As they created their work, the art students also learned to navigate the critique process. Natachu noted the importance of handling this appropriately.

“We create a safe space at ZYEP,” he explained. “The students learn how to critique each other’s painting constructively, how to make their work better, and how to handle all of this in a healthy way.”

The Emerging Artist Apprenticeship Program is about more than the art, however. A critical component of the program involves career readiness, with lessons that include customer service, budgeting and pricing.

“If they want to become a show artist down the road, it hits them,” Natachu said. “They need to buy their own art supplies, they need to pay for hotels and gas to attend shows, and they need to have packaging materials for their artwork. It doesn’t matter if they want to do this as a hobby or as a job — they need to turn a profit, and these lessons help prepare them for the future.”

A key partner in the Emerging Artist Apprenticeship Program is First Financial Credit Union, which hosts a “spending frenzy” event for the art students. During this simulation of real-life fiscal responsibility, each student is given a fixed amount of funds and must take care of adult expenses like housing, car payments, fuel and meals.

They also receive random cards that represent major life events, and they receive additional funds or have to spend money depending on those events. As they navigate the exercises, they are learning to write and cash checks, balance a checkbook, live within their means, and plan for the future.

“They loved the process, but they were shocked to see what their spending habits looked like,” Natachu said with a chuckle. “They would say, ‘We really need to learn to budget our funds better!’ It shook them up, which is necessary so they can start to think long-term.

“The best part was that they were able to invite their family members to do this with them,” he continued. “That was a fun way to create multigenerational interaction. It really helps when youth can learn with their families.”

“The business side of art had never been taught to us,” Quetawki said. “We had to dive in head-first, without guidance. We want doors to be open for our future artists so we will have a community cultural record keepers, visual storytellers and successful artists in the great art markets of the world. Encouragement and support go a long way, and they definitely make your path as an artist much easier.”

Throughout the apprenticeship, instructors shared their own personal experiences as working artists — and reassured the young art students that they would have plenty of support if they chose to pursue a career in the arts.

“We want them to feel empowered,” Natachu said. “They have tools, access and support through ZYEP, ARTZ and the tribe. This is a journey, and we are giving them the building blocks they need.”

As the ZYEP team gears up for the second cohort of the 2023 Emerging Art Apprenticeship Program, they are working closely with the top three students from the two-dimensional art apprenticeship — Braydon Othole, Cody Cachini and Nicholas Koruh-Ukestine — to prepare them for 6th annual Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival in Bernalillo, New Mexico, on May 6-7.

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), YouTube (/ZuniYouth), and TikTok (/zyep09)


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.