Little Eagle Arts Foundation

Little Eagle Arts Foundation, Wisconsin Dells  

By Niki Leinweber, Arts Wisconsin intern 

April 2016

Arts Wisconsin intern Niki Leinweber  sat down with Melanie Tallmadge Sainz, Director of the Arts Wisconsin member organization Little Eagle Arts Foundation in Wisconsin Dells, for some questions and answers.    


What are your organization’s mission and vision statements?

Little Eagle Arts Foundation (LEAF) was founded in 2013 and is dedicated to preserving and promoting Native art, creativity, and community.  Our mission statewide is:  Little Eagle Arts Foundation (LEAF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting American Indian art by cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit of American Indian/First Nations artists in order to achieve success and promote a cycle of economic security in Indian Country. 

1) Serve as an incubator for new and emerging American Indian/First Nations artists to create traditional and contemporary art and acquire the entrepreneurial knowledge and business acumen for a successful career in the arts.  Selected LEAF artists will be paired with a successful professional American Indian artist mentor, learn about and create art in a professional artist studio environment,

2) Maintain a gallery, gift shop, cafe, and public programs that maintain a reputation for exceptional American Indian art and American Indian cultural art education materials.  
LEAF will maintain a retail gift shop that features products distributed by American Indian owned companies and art education materials pertinent to American Indian/First Nations people. The Native Presence Gallery will feature curated exhibits containing the art of LEAF affiliated artists and the objects of the Roger and Bernadine Tallmadge Memorial Collection. LEAF’s Indian Art Market events will gain a reputation as the “Santa Fe of the Midwest”.study and enrich their knowledge of art and culture through hands-on access to a museum quality collection of art and artifacts, and engage in a rigorous curriculum that blends art making with the art of business.


4) Develop a model for success that can be shared and applied to any American Indian/First Nations community throughout Indian Country.  Art has shown to be a vehicle for economic stability in communities across the United States. The LEAF business model for success will be accessible to any American Indian community that is interested in developing an incubator for new artists that contributes to the overall betterment of the broader community. 3) Build community through access to cultural preservation of the arts, professional teaching artists, and a professional art studio center.  A full range of fee based art classes and workshops will be available to LEAF members and visitors, American Indian and non-Indian, youth through adult. Research and studio experiences will emphasize the cultivation of the art forms indigenous to American Indian/First Nations people, as well as integrate traditional and contemporary Western fine and folk art forms. A variety of professional teaching artists will be featured throughout the annual calendar year. 

What is your organization’s purpose – why do you do what you do?  LEAF is a mission driven organization that provides opportunities for Native artists to hone their business skills and showcase their art and culture. We recognize the needs of new and emerging Native artists in our area, as well as the need to cultivate the Native folk art forms that are near extinction.

3) What are your programs and services?  We were recently featured at the Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the largest tourism conference in the country.  We presented a session on Ho-Chunk culture and contemporary and traditional art forms. Tribal members discussed how arts and culture connect people and address community issues.  


In April, we’ll be presented a workshop on Native Artist Training with the First Peoples Fund.  The Fund’s Native Artist Professional Development Training Program equips entrepreneurs with knowledge, tools and confidence to navigate their professional careers and lead fulfilling personal lives.  We’ll also feature our collaborative project with the Tribal Aging Unit of the Ho-Chunk Nation will be featured at the H.H. Bennett historical site annual meeting. Tribal Elder Connie Lonetree (Ho-Chunk) is assisting LEAF to better conserve and manage our photography collection. Connie is traveling to various elder sites and facilitating the identification of tribal members, Ho-Chunk names, location, and historical period. Current postcards featuring several photographs by H.H. Bennett will be shown and Connie will describe the cultural information of the Native peoples in the photo. 

In May, we’ll collaborate with the Wisconsin Dells School District on a cultural preservation through the arts program.  The biggest event is the Grand 
Opening of Native Presence Art Gallery and Learning Center, providing Dels visitors with authentic American Indian art and hands-on workshops and activities. The gallery will be the first and only Indian-owned and operated enterprise on the main street in Wisconsin Dells. The first featured artists exhibition will spotlight the art of Dawn Dark Mountain (Oneida) and Karen Ann Hoffman (Oneida). Both artists will be exhibiting and demonstrating their art in the gallery on July 4 & 5. 

CG443057au2177PWho’s involved with your organization? Our board members, advisors, members and volunteer come from the Ho-Chunk and other tribes, and from the community.   

What audience do you serve?  LEAF serves American Indian/First Nations artists. We also pride ourselves in providing members of the broader community with cultural arts programs that feature authentic-voice experiences that feature Native peoples.


What’s the most important thing your organization did last year?  LEAF partnered with the Friends of H.H. Bennett Studio to produce the Stand Rock Indian Ceremonial Reawakened and Native Art Marketplace at Crystal Grand Theatre in Wisconsin Dells, WI.

6) What are your plans for the year ahead?  Opening the gallery!  And, we’ll also continue in our development efforts to revitalize our headquarters in Wisconsin Dells.


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