Artfully preserving a culture’: Art reception kicks off two-day event as part of Nisenan Heritage Day |

Artfully preserving a culture’: Art reception kicks off two-day event as part of Nisenan Heritage Day

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector


WHO: The Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan, California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP)

WHAT: 3rd Annual Art Exhibit and 10th Annual Heritage Day

WHEN: Friday Nov. 1 from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m

WHERE: Nevada City Winery (321 Spring St, Nevada City) on Friday, Sierra College Nevada County Campus (250 Sierra College Dr, Grass Valley) on Saturday

HOW: Tickets $15 at the door for art reception, Saturday is free

Long before Nevada County’s population exploded with those seeking their fortunes in gold, indigenous people lived on the beautiful lands of the Sierra Foothills. One of those tribes of people were the Nisenan of the Nevada City Rancheria, who were later placed on a reservation on Cement Hill until Congress terminated their designation in 1964.

Today, through the 501 (c)(3) the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP) founded by longtime indigenous advocate and artist Judith Lowry, members work to “preserve, protect, and perpetuate” Nisenan Culture. To that end, the 10th Annual Nisenan Heritage Day will be held on Nov. 2. Prior to that, for the 3rd year, an art exhibition will take place entitled, “Visibility Through Art.” This year’s theme for both events is “Recognition.”

Art Coordinator Mira Clark explained Judith Lowry curated an exhibit for several years on her own, primarily with her own renowned work. Clark stepped in a few years ago, with an idea for a different approach, but with one the tribal members needed to be comfortable. “The first year we did this, artists met one on one with Shelly (CHIRP Executive Director Shelly Covert) to have her express what she wanted to be represented of the culture and the people and the history of Nevada County and almost commission pieces.” Clark said she, along with the other artists, were a little nervous as they were sensitive to the culture and wanted to create work that felt okay and was sensitive to how things were represented. “We really listened to Shelly and let her guide us and say yes or no to whatever did or did not feel right and let her have final approval on all of the pieces.” The result was a well-received collection of unique art.

This year Clark said more artists have volunteered and the process has evolved to an even more personal level. “Many artists are able to work one-on-one with individual tribal members to interview them about their lives and really collaborate to create pieces. One artist even led a workshop on natural mineral paints with tribal members, so we have a few pieces from tribal members themselves. It’s really a project that keeps evolving.”

The art reception kicks off a two-day event as part of Nisenan Heritage Day. Clark added, “I just want to emphasize that it’s a unique situation in this political climate. Making art about indigenous people is a sensitive topic because there are a lot of ways that it could go really wrong. The only way we can do this is because of Shelly and the Nevada City Rancheria asking for us to do this and because of the close check-in process and collaboration we have in place along the way. The art feels very representative of the tribe and is sensitive, caring and respectful.” Clark said she feels privileged as an artist and as an organizer to be able to do this kind of work. “It is delicate, and it is intimate,” she added.

Executive Director Shelly Covert said she is pleased with the way the work has come about with Clark leading the way because it can be a bit tricky to curate cultural pieces by non-native artists. “Walking the tightrope of having non-native folks create content about Native Americans can sometimes be considered cultural appropriation,” Covert said.

“Some people make their careers off of it, never making connection with the communities they are making art about.” She said this is completely the opposite. Covert sits with the artist for hours educating them about the history, social justice and the environment. Covert said she closely monitors the process. “I have several check-in points to make sure the pieces are inside these really skinny rails.” The artists then donate the pieces to the nonprofit. In the past some pieces were auctioned off, but Covert said many of the works of art are too sensitive to sell. Instead they now have an incredible art collection that will preserve even more of the history. Many of them are put on display or become part of other shows.

Clark grew up in Nevada County and said she feels the work helps her come into “right relationship” with her home since her ancestors were not from here but settled on this land. “There are only 144 members. The culture is very precious and the preservation of it is essential, so anything we can be doing as a community to help represent them and bring attention to their different causes and help preserve any piece of culture through the art is such a gift and an important service.”

The art exhibit takes place Nov. 1 at the Nevada City Winery with Nisenan Heritage Day taking place Saturday Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at on the Sierra College Campus.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at

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