“It’s time to build a new community, form new relationships, and entirely new belief systems and practices in creating, practicing, performing, and presenting art.”
For this year’s Giving Tuesday, we wanted to share the stories of artists connected to The COVID-19 Artist Trust Relief Fund, including James Pakootas, a hip-hop artist from Nespelem, WA who received financial support, and Humaira Abid, a King County-based visual artist and past Fellowship and Arts Innovator Award recipient who donated to the Fund to support artists in need.
We spoke with them both about what this year has taught them, how they’ll carry those lessons with them, how their artistic practice has changed, and most importantly, what they ask of artist-serving organizations in the new year. Read James’ responses below.
My passion, drive, and involvement in The Arts come in a variety of ways. I’m a certified trainer in professional development for Native Artists through First Peoples Fund (Rapid City, SD) as well as a 2019 recipient of their Artist In Business Leadership Fellowship. I’m part of a collaboration of 3 Colville Tribal Members that won a 2019 Native American Music Awards Winner for our hit single “Break These Chains” that would later go on to win “Best Hip Hop Video” at last year’s 19th Annual Awards Show in Niagara Falls, NY. In terms of event production, I’m a consulting producer with The Alliance For Media Arts + Culture and have helped weave innovative storytelling through film and performance with them since moving to Spokane in 2018. I’m also a community engagement producer with Nia Tero and help them bring Indigenous stories to communities in re-imagined ways by once again utilizing drive-in movie theaters. I own Collective Influence Productions, a recording studio in Spokane, Washington that operates more like a collaborative team of artists and producers that help bring creative visions to life. I also co-founded an organization with Spokane hip hop artist Devonte “T.S The Solution” Pearson, called New Age Warriors, L.L.C. that specializes in community engagement through workshops, talking circles, live performances, keynote speeches and hosting artist residency programs with a focus on the youth. I’m a 2020 Advancing Indigenous Performance Fellowship winner through Western Arts Alliance (Portland, OR), and our collective has just been awarded an Artist in Residence with Caldera Arts (Sisters, OR) in January of 2021.
What has 2020 taught you both personally and professionally?
2020 has taught me that the way that I’ve been living my life and the way that I was building my career was unsustainable. I can sometimes feel trapped or stagnant when I focus on booking gigs out of necessity or “survival” instead of saying no to what doesn’t align with my purpose & passion. Before Covid-19 stopped us all in our tracks, I was caught in this maze of work that paid the bills but didn’t set my soul on fire. I expended all my energy being this hitman-for-hire, but inside, I found myself feeling tired, overworked, and unappreciated. 2020 taught me that the world that existed before Covid wasn’t working for me and that it’s not only okay, but necessary to forge a new future for myself as an artist, producer, and honestly, a human being.
How will you carry those lessons into 2021?
It starts with honoring my worth and value, speaking up, and lending my voice, experience, and passion in the creation of this new world. It starts with collaborating with others that truly inspire me and push past the limits of genre and discipline. It’s time to build a new community, form new relationships, and entirely new belief systems and practices in creating, practicing, performing, and presenting art.
Has your artistic practice changed? If so, how?
My practice has changed drastically. When I think of art, my second thought is now film. Live performance will come back but not anytime soon in my unforeseeable future. When we started to experience our first shutdowns due to this pandemic, my first thought was, “How can I adapt if this continues? How must I change? What must I become to continue creating, because I’m not going back to a ‘PLAN B.’ (I’m an emerging artist and producer in the first few years of my resurgence. There is no ‘PLAN B’). I won’t allow it. So how will the world change if our movement is limited and what can I do to meet that change?” So I invested in the newest phone out with the best camera, bought a phone gimbal, and started putting hours behind the lens to learn a new way to create and tell stories. It turned into utilizing my studio space to record various “concert-style” performances for various artists, which led to scoring our first film and starting a film company with Hollywood film director Ben-Alex Dupris and being official selections and nominations for “Best Animated Short” With American Indian Film Festival and “Achievement in Animation” for this year’s LA Skins Fest. I shot and edited an entire performing arts segment for a local film festival in Spokane and traveled all over Washington this fall with fellow filmmaker Roxanne Best from Roxtography in partnership with Northwest Native Development Fund (Coulee Dam, WA) & First Peoples Fund (Rapid City, SD) to weave stories of 13 performing arts acts from Washington in mini-documentary style segments highlighting BIPOC artists and culture bearers.So yes, everything has changed. We’re making and producing films now and if you asked me if I could’ve ever guessed I’d find myself adapting in such a way just a year ago…I probably would’ve laughed it off, and not taken it seriously… but here we are, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
What do you ask or expect of artist-serving organizations as we look to 2021?
I ask for equity and a shift in “power.” Conferences & grant applications take massive amounts of time and energy and are a great financial burden. I ask for reciprocity. Showcasing at conferences is pay to play, and people that administrate grant applications are on salary. On the other hand, as working artists, we devote months of our lives preparing to pay and travel to conferences for the hopes of being received well. Lengthy and complicated grant applications consume hours and hours of unpaid time, even for small amounts of money that do not sustain the work let alone our administrative burden. It’s time for us to be nurtured. Many of the requests, questions, files, videos, pictures, work samples, press kits, etc are already our websites or other virtual platforms. Shorten the applications and let the admin work be done by people being paid salaries to do so.Speaking from my experience as both an artist and presenter at various conferences across the country, I am frustrated by half-hearted land acknowledgments that are done simply to meet a requirement. Real honoring comes from listening and engaging your local Indigenous community. Don’t just let us into the conversations, let us LEAD the conversations about a new future. Let us FACILITATE, HOLD SPACE, and SHARE OUR VISION from an Indigenous viewpoint. Art and culture build community. What kind of culture will you create?
James “Just Jamez” Pakootas is an award-winning artist & producer, motivational speaker, and mentor who cultivates change in the world through the power of words. He grew up on The Colville Indian Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. James has a passion for community building & collaboration and is dedicated to sharing powerful stories from a Native perspective. Whether interacting with people online, performing on stage, mentoring on zoom, recording in the studio, or collaborating on film projects, James has a message that holds value, a presence that carries weight, and a vision to empower lives.