35 Art Students Completed the Groundbreaking Program in 2022

 ZUNI, NM (Jan. 26, 2022) — Last year, with support from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) and the Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni (ARTZ) Cooperative, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project launched its new Emerging Artist Apprenticeship Program. Thirty-five students ages 12-24 completed their apprenticeships in 2022, and on Tuesday, Jan. 17, the program’s eagerly anticipated second year began with a new cohort of 19 students.

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.

In its inaugural year, the Emerging Artist Apprenticeship Program incorporated three sessions of six weeks each. The spring session focused on two-dimensional graphic design, the summer session focused on Zuni Pueblo pottery, and the fall session was dedicated to Zuni Pueblo embroidery.

Thirteen apprentices joined the embroidery cohort. While some had a little experience with craft sewing and modern textiles, the ancient art of Zuni Pueblo embroidery was new to everyone.

“It was eye-opening for them, to learn how long it takes and how much work goes into it,” said Elroy Natachu Jr., ZYEP’s art coordinator. “The students developed a newfound appreciation for this art form as they came to understand the value and expertise.”

This type of stitching, Natachu explained, involves a limited amount of thread or yard to create a pattern. The artist needs to work much like a painter does, going line by line.

“The students have to really use their critical thinking skills, because even a small mistake will shift the entire design,” he said. “You need good hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. We taught the basics, with simplified patterns. To do the more difficult patterns, you need to train your brain.”

“It’s so beautiful, but it’s difficult work,” noted Kandis Quam, ZYEP’s assistant art coordinator. “Patience is the No. 1 thing you need, because the pattern can trip you up. It will humble you, and it will show you who you really are. Our students learned to think like embroidery artists. They put their blood, sweat and tears into it, and it was wonderful to see them puff up with pride.”

Field trips and art shows are important components of the apprenticeship program. Members of the first apprenticeship cohort participated in the 5th annual Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival in Bernalillo, New Mexico. Members of the second cohort took part in the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) Heritage Festival in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The top three embroidery students had an opportunity to visit the School for Advanced Research, home to the Indian Arts Research Center, to view textiles from the 17th century and draw inspiration for their own pattern work.

The students also were able to display and sell their work through the ARTZ Cooperative. And, they continued to work on more advanced projects at ZYEP.

“They don’t want to leave,” Natachu said with a laugh. “Half the class is selling their own work. They have inventory, and they’re even taking orders. At the showcase, almost all our students sold out!”

According to Quam, the group had been a little nervous about showing their work to the Zuni community. They wondered if people really would come, she said, but they need not have worried.

“The community was so excited,” she remembered. “The families were proud, the students were so proud and happy — it was so much fun to see.”

During the six-week session, the students also learned how to run their own businesses, from customer service to pricing and financial literacy.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, ZYEP welcomed a new cohort of emerging artists to learn two-dimensional art — drawing and painting — with instructors Dennis Dewa Jr. and Mallery Quetawki. Natachu said he hopes future sessions will include contemporary art mediums such as photography and filmmaking.

What’s more, ZYEP is embarking on a “Year 2” edition of the apprenticeship program. The team is offering advanced instruction to three of the program’s top students from 2022.

“This will be geared more toward the business aspect and building a viable career,” Natachu said. “They’ll be learning to produce a ready-to-go show packet, with a bio, artist statement, resume, and portfolio with 10 to 15 images of their work.”

The students will work one-on-one with a mentor so they can go more in-depth, and the curriculum will be based on what they want to learn, from the cultural aspects to the methodology.

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.