By: Tom Fink | Category: Rogers County | Issue: May 2022
Betsy Swimmer and her grandson Colin Browne are members of the Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance, and key staff at the Vault Gallery in Catoosa, where Native American artisans display their work. Browne serves as special projects officer.
Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance is a collective of Native American volunteers and creatives who, among other things, showcase the work of various artists at the Vault Gallery in Catoosa, right off historic Route 66.
As the group is made up of volunteers and is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization, funding is made possible through a variety of sources, chief among them being donations and fundraisers.
This summer, the group will be hosting the biggest of these fundraisers, namely, the annual Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance Gala.
“The Vault had its opening event in February and it was jam-packed – it was very successful,” said Betsy Swimmer, Vault Gallery director ant Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance co-founder, “but as the organization is made up of volunteers, funding comes through events, the biggest of these being our upcoming gala event.”
Native American artist Jerry Henry specializes in reclamation art. Henry’s work is on display at Vault Gallery in Catoosa, and he is one of the Native American artists regularly on-site to discuss his work with gallery visitors.
In addition to being a crucial fundraiser, the gala also will be an opportunity for group members to highlight and honor the efforts and activities of various members from the previous year.
“We’re technically a Cherokee community organization, but we have several of the tribal governments – 39 in all in Oklahoma – with artists who are members, and whom we honor,” she said, “and in fact, we even have some tribes from outside of Oklahoma who participate.”
Honoring the previous year, and projecting the organization’s goals for the coming year are a large part of the evening’s discussions, according to Swimmer.
One special honoree this year will be Victoria Mitchell Vazquez.
In her first year as a Tribal Councilor, Vazquez was instrumental in securing tribal funding to create the Cherokee National Treasures Mentorship Program, which pays stipends to the Treasures who wish to teach their art, craft, language, or cultural skills to other Choerokees, assuring that the Cherokee culture will be carried forward to future generations.
Vazquez a native of Vinita, was awarded “Cherokee National Treasure – Master Craftsman” by the Cherokee Nation in 2012.
“The organization (Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance) actually sponsors this event, which will also incorporate a silent auction and a fashion show that’s really going to be unlike any other (fashion show),” she said. “Several of our artists actually design clothing, so we’re going to run the gamut at a fashion show featuring the work of artisans whose work is traditional (Native American clothing) on up through contemporary designs, which many people are unaware of. Our designers are skilled at creating looks that can encompass our history, but can also be quite modern in their look.”
Many of the auction items will be special, one-of-a-kind items created specifically for the gala, specifically to help raise money for the nonprofit.
“This (auction) will be a great opportunity for people to come and maybe get something unique that’s not available – or going to be available – anywhere else,” she said. “It’s going to be a very special, unique evening for everyone, and one that’s keeping in tune with our spirit of collaboration between the local arts community and Route 66 itself, the historic ‘Mother Road.’”
Prior to the arts gallery’s opening, Swimmer said it was uncommon for the public to think of Catoosa as an arts community, but that has already started to change.
“We’re the gateway into Cherokee Nation,” she said. “As one of our councilmen said, ‘Tourism is a doorway to economic development’ and this (Catoosa) is a gateway to the Cherokee reservation. With the new tourism center opening in Vinita, Catoosa is the first ‘button on that shirt’, so to speak. So many of the artists we feature are from the area, but they may not have been recognized for their talent as artists – people tend to overlook what’s in their own community, but we are certainly changing that.
“Catoosa is strategically located to be the driver for cultural tourism, and this gala will present an opportunity for people to understand why the community is so integral in that regard,” she said. “This evening won’t just be about a gala, but it’s about the spirit of collaboration to help make Catoosa known throughout the world as a destination for Native American art.”
The Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance Gala will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, July 8, at the Bella Donna Event Center at 2188 N. Highway 167 in Catoosa.
Several levels of sponsorship are available. For more information, email eat1@eau1eav1eaw1 or call 918-277-2278.
For more information about the Rt. 66 Native Arts Alliance, visit them online at www.rt66nativeartsalliance.org
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