Hopi Arts Trail To Support Tribal Artists and Spur Economic Development


Hopi peoples are part of one of the oldest living cultures in documented history who now live in high and dry country in north central Arizona. Here, residents of 12 villages on three mesas grow crops by dry farming their seemingly inhospitable land—and maintaining their covenant with Maasaw, the ancient caretaker of the Earth.

The Hopi tribe earns most of its income from natural resources. But with an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent, Hopi artists and craftsmen are among those hard-pressed to eke out a living. This creative community is hoping all that will change with the just-released announcement of the Hopi Arts Trail, a collaboration and direct-connection between artists and galleries on tribal land.

Supported by the Upper Village elders and Moenkopi Developers Corporation, a 501 (c) 3-entity in the village, it’s anticipated that the Trail will create a cross-village interaction among neighbors. While people of different villages may live in close proximity, they often lead very separate lives.

“Economic development translates directly into preservation of culture, religion, family, and language through the creation of jobs on Hopi Tribal land,” the Upper Village of Moenkopi leaders said.

The Trail, which will begin at the Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City and follow Arizona Highway 264 through ancestral lands, is designed to promote both Hopi arts and tourism.

“The idea was conceived about six months ago when tribal representatives, artists, and gallery owners decided to join forces in this forward-thinking project,” says Hopi Arts Trail promoter Mike Finney of Arizona Communications Group. “There’s been interest for years to create new economic development and this is an ecumenical step forward in sharing knowledge and talents toward that end.”

Hopi tribal data indicates merely two out of five tribal members hold down full-time jobs, and nearly 70 percent of residents live at or below the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's defined poverty level. The innovators behind the Hopi Arts Trail hope their program will change all that. They anticipate revenue allowing businesses to expand and hire more employees. The overarching goal of the Hopi Arts Trail is to establish a more stable economic foundation than exists today.

“For too many Hopi, their future depended on having to leave their homes, clans, and villages to find a livelihood,” Finney says. “When economic opportunity is created right on tribal lands, it’s not just dollars and cents, it translates into culture and family issues because they can remain intact by making a living in their home environment.”’

James Survey, marketing and special events manager for Moenkopi Legacy Inn, is also a Hopi artist from the Third Mesa village of Kykotsmovi. He will assist in the management of the arts program. “The Hopi Arts Trail concept reinforces the vision of the Upper Village elders who want to increase economic development by adding visitor attractions. Among the many anticipated benefits is improvement on many services that will spur economic development. There are not a lot of jobs here and many Hopi make their living—or supplement it—through arts and crafts or by giving guided tours. This endeavor will bring knowledge and knowhow to increase the return on those efforts.”

Hopi Arts Trail organizers initially hope to form a cooperative marketing effort between 10 galleries, 24 artists and 6 guides. Although, Surveyor says, “There are a lot of artists here, so this program is going to grow and those numbers could even double.”

Because there are a dozen separate villages that have their own residential creative talent, Hopi artists and galleries are not accustomed to working in collaboration and have never had any form of collective, sophisticated marketing efforts. Almost none of the galleries and very few artists currently have websites—considered the most important method of commerce communication today.

“This program offers a great opportunity for people to learn about and get involved with available technology, to have advertising and marketing support, web pages and internet sites—things that don’t exist now,” Surveyor says, indicating a long-term future for the effort. “We’re not going to start a program that disappears mysteriously. This will be a consistent where-to-go-whom-to-meet-what-to-buy campaign.”

The Hopi Arts Trail program will include a Passport brochure that features customer incentives and profiles of gift shops like that of Roy Talahaftewa, a gallery owner who already sells his jewelry to collectors over the Internet. Artist and guide Evelyn Fredericks is another supporter of the collaborative effort: “We are a remote tribe with many excellent artisans. This is a way to make us more accessible.”