In a bid to make prestigious artists’ residencies accessible to Indigenous talent, MacDowell and the Santa Fe, N.Mex.–based Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) have announced a fellowship for graduates of the IAIA’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFACW) Program. MacDowell was founded in 1907 and is the nation’s longest-running artist residency. With the new initiative, it seeks “artists we have historically struggled to reach,” said executive director Philip Himberg in a press release, adding that the fellowship represents “a tangible example of how we can and should act to support a diversity of voices that will enrich our culture.”

At present, MacDowell and IAIA’s partnership will fund one fellowship for an IAIA graduate annually. “The number of applicants is not limited,” said MacDowell admissions director Courtney Bethel, “and we hope to reach artists working in a variety of artistic disciplines who are IAIA alums.” MacDowell considers applications on a rolling basis: residencies last from two to six weeks, and fellows stay an average of 30 days.

The partnership developed when MFACW director Deborah Jackson Taffa, a citizen of the Yuma Nation and Laguna Pueblo, spent November 2021 at MacDowell and spoke with Bethel to discuss how to attract more Native writers and artists. MacDowell invited eight past fellows, all U.S.-based and Indigenous, to convene for a virtual conversation about their residency experiences. “We learned that several of these artists experienced MacDowell as the only Native artist in residence during their stay,” Bethel said, so MacDowell invited them back as a cohort. In August 2022, four returned to participate, including Tonita Cervantes, Jay B Muskett, Cheryl Savageau, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden.

Currently there is no specific session for Indigenous artists in residence, Bethel said, and because MacDowell’s residency model is self-guided, “all engagement opportunities are voluntary.” At the August session, MacDowell “invited local Abenaki artists to share their artistic practices with the artists in residence, which included our Indigenous fellows.”

IAIA has no say in the admissions process, and MacDowell determines candidates for residency. If the panel doesn’t select an IAIA applicant (or none apply), no funding will be directed to IAIA grads that year. Yet there’s no shortage of accomplished MFACW students, present and past. Alumni include Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe, Mi’kmaq/settler writer Amanda Peters, and Native Hawaiian screenwriter Bryson Chun, who works on the Disney+ series Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. Tommy Orange, another IAIA grad and a two-time MacDowell fellow in 2014 and 2019, is a MFACW mentor; Ponca and Ojibwe writer/producer Migizi Pensoneau, a producer on the FX series Reservation Dogs, teaches at IAIA.

“The one group I would love to see increased in the MFACW is the screenwriters,” Taffa added. “We have a Warner Bros. partnership in which the film company pays a huge chunk of tuition.”

According to Robert Martin of the Cherokee Nation, president of the IAIA, “The collaboration with MacDowell will be mutually beneficial to our respective missions by amplifying Indigenous voices in the arts. We are confident that access to MacDowell fellowships and interactions with other fellows will enhance our Indigenous students’ knowledge and arts practice, thereby promoting their success in the field.”

IAIA celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2022, and enrolls approximately 80% Native students and 20% non-Native students, Taffa said. Students in the MFACW program need not identify as Native, Indigenous, or First Nations people, but must have a common desire to “tell stories of an alternative America, tell stories on the margins, and challenge people to think about America in new ways.”

Taffa emphasized that “there’s no one single type of Native American: we have so much diversity, religion, narratives and counternarratives.” Bringing more Indigenous voices into publishing and the media, she added, unsettles the “danger of the single story.”