Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Area Voices: Community exhibit makes for ‘good news’

A photo of Phyllis Bunker in bright yellow, blue, and pink colors with three side photos of Phyllis
Kent Estey
Phyllis Bunker as part of "Featured Community Members and Their Stories" by Kent Estey.

“Naytahwaush: Faces, Stories, and Artists Exhibition” opens at the Gizhiigin Arts Incubator in Mahnomen on Saturday, May 18. Curator Kent Estey joins Area Voices to discuss how the project came to be and what he hopes other communities will take away from it.

NAYTAHWAUSH — Every community has a story. Every person in that community has a story. Unfortunately, rarely do we get to hear everyone’s story. A new exhibition at the Gizhiigin Arts Incubator in Mahnomen hopes to spread the word on those stories.

Photo of Mary Tuner in bright yellow, blue, and pink colors with three photos of clothing she's created and text below her.
Kent Estey
Mary Turner as part of the "Featured Community Members and Their Stories" by Kent Estey.

“Naytahwaush: Faces, Stories, and Artists Exhibition” started out as an idea by artist Kent Estey after watching the news. “I told my wife the only news I hear from our community is bad news. What about all the good things that are happening in our community?”

Estey applied for a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant for a project dedicated to the joy and positivity of his community. It also became an opportunity to showcase the artistry going on in Naytahwaush as well. As a fellow artist, he understands the frustration of lack of exhibition space for artists in the area. “Sometimes you feel invisible and it's like, ‘Hey, I'm here. I'm really here and I do this art, and I would love to show that to you some time.’”

For the project, Estey interviewed eight elders from the community and used photography and digital effects to create pieces to capture faces and stories. You will also see, paintings, basketry, beadwork, quilts, blankets, clothing, music and more from Naytahwaush.

Finding good news

Estey remembers attending the Anishinaabe Arts Festival in Bemidji three years ago and feeling emotional during the fashion show.

“I could hear myself saying, 'Finally, we are seeing these beautiful pieces, these ribbon shirts and the regalia and the jingle dresses and the scarves and the beautiful beadwork as fine pieces of art.' That was such a wonderful feeling.”

Photo of artist Kent Estey wearing a baseball cap.
Kent Estey
Artist Kent Estey who is the curator of "Naytahwaush: Faces, Stories, and Artists Exhibition."

“So with this exhibit, I'm hoping that people will be introduced to a new artist that they didn't know existed. Someone that's been creating art their entire life and just never had a place to showcase their work... so this is all good news,” he said.

The first step

Estey also hopes the exhibit will inspire other communities.

“I really hope that this is just the beginning, that other small communities on our reservation can think, ‘We could do this for Rice Lake. We could do this for Pine Point. We could do this for White Earth. We could do this for Mahnomen.’ I'm hoping that that's what happens with this.”

Finding artists

There were different methods Estey used to find people to showcase in the exhibition. Social media was a helpful tool for getting the message out. He also knew a handful of artists in the community already and they led him to different people as well.

“Every person I talk to has led me to somebody else and said, ‘Do you know that so-and-so does this work?’ I go, ‘No, I didn't know that.” Estey continued, “I've lived in this community and worked in this community for 63 years. I haven't gone anywhere else, and I didn't know that this person created this type of art. It's been an eye opener for me.”

Estey also hopes kids will come to this exhibition and see examples of artwork from their family, friends, and relatives and get inspired. “Hopefully some kid will see something and go, ‘You know, I could do that too. I can be an artist too.’”

Curating an exhibition is a new thing for Estey. As an artist he is usually on the other side of things. “All those things that the curators that do this professionally deal with every day, like those worries of will they have their work in here on time? How large is it? How am I going to present that? Well, how do you hang a quilt on the wall? What's the best way to present a musician's work? All those questions now are in my head. It's with me 24/7.”

Despite these worries, Estey is honored to curate this exhibition. “If there's a connection with me and this piece of art and my community in a positive way, that's what this is all about.”

“Naytahwaush: Faces, Stories, and Artists Exhibition” opens at the Gizhiigin Arts Incubator with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 18. It will be on display there through the end of July.

Tell us about upcoming arts events where you live in Northern Minnesota by emailing

Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

Stay Connected