AHA! A House for Arts



Learn about the Iroquois Indian Museum, a venue for promoting Iroquois art and artists. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science turns fantasy into reality by bringing mythical creatures to life. Traditional dancers explore the meaning, history, and regalia of three unique Native American dances. Learn how the Guadalupe Arts and Cultural Center continues to celebrate the Latino roots of San Antonio

AIRED: November 01, 2017 | 0:26:46

- On this episode of AHA!

Understanding the Iroquois through their arts.

- All I wanna do is

to let people realize that we're a part of

their history too.

- [Katie] An exhibit that brings

mythical creatures to life.

- [Samantha] These things were believed to be real

and to have real properties that could help you

or save you.

- [Katie] Keeping Native American

culture alive through dance.

- [Jennie] The style that I dance is original

really simple elegant steps.

- [Katie] An arts and culture center celebrates

its Latino roots.

- [Jeannette] I knew very early on

that once I was in rehearsal,

once I was in the dance studio,

once I was in class,

or on stage

there is no other place that I would rather be.

- It's all ahead on this episode of AHA!

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA! has been provided by

your contribution and by contributions to the

WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include the

Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

and the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality of our

communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite

you to do the same.

(relaxing music)

- Hi I'm Katie G and this is AHA!

A house for art.

It's a place for all things creative.

The Iroquois Indian Museum is dedicated to fostering

understanding of Iroquois culture

using Iroquois art as a window to that culture.

The museum is a venue for promoting Iroquois art and artists

and a meeting place for all people to celebrate

Iroquois culture and diversity.

(foreign language)

- Translation is hi how are you?

I hope that you come in peace.

My name is (mumbles)

I am Mohawk Turtle Clan and I come from the land

where the partridge drums.

(singing in foreign language)

- The Iroquois Museum was founded in 1980.

1981 we opened as a museum.

35 years in operation

and it was founded to

celebrate educate and support

creative contemporary Iroquois.

What we do in many of our exhibits is utilize

contemporary Iroquois art

to teach about who the Iroquois are.

It's a very vital culture.

They were the first inhabitants of New York state

and their artists are the ambassadors and

the educators that explain to people

where they come from,

who they are,

and the important traditions in their culture.

To do that we do exhibits,

performing artists here on a yearly basis,

we have dancers,

we got a outdoor amphitheater,

we have a nature park which has signage that explains

what kind of plants were used for medicines.

We also look at the archeological and the historical

evidence of who the Iroquois people come from.

Over the last 35 years our main goal has been to collect

contemporary Iroquois art.

At this point we have the largest contemporary collection

of Iroquois art probably in the world and it stems from

about the mid-70s up until the present day.

We collect baskets and stone carvings

and (mumbles) and paintings and just about any

type of artwork the Iroquois create we've collected.

- What I've experienced here over the years

actually are people coming here

to learn how to live better with the Creation.

Spirituality for us is that connectedness

to that natural world.

Through song

dance and a story.

We believe that everything in the Creation has its own song,

its own dance,

and its own story.

What's amazing is that

I'm not out there looking.

They're coming here

and in that way I can give them what information

that I have and help steer them

in the right direction.

I'm not the final answer I'm just one of those steps.


- The project of the Iroquois Museum,

I came through here a few years ago doing

my masters research and I got a really good

rapport with (mumbles) who I ran into at the time.

I think they just looked at my web page and decided that

we should do a project together 'cause she knew I was a

contemporary and Native artist.

We wrote a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts

and then once the grant was approved it's been about

six months leading up to the actual fruition of the design

you see behind me.

It's been really nice working

with people here 'cause it's smaller groups of people.

You really get a one on one contact.

We have people that have worked with us for 15 minutes

and people who have stayed and worked for two hours.

Talking with someone for two hours,

it's really hard to part.

You're strangers at that point.

It's been great to build community and I think that

that intention is woven into the design of the mural too.

That's really great to see.

(singing in foreign language)

- [Stephanie] One of the very important things

that we try to do when visitors come to the museum

is explain to them who the Iroquois people are

because you may learn about it in school,

particularly if you go to a New York state school,

but it's really who are these people?

They are long term inhabitants of New York state,

at least 10,000 years ago,

and there are six separate Nations that make up

what we call the Iroquois confederacy

and what they call the confederacy.

It begins here and Schoharie County is the Mohawk territory.

It's original Mohawk territory and as you travel westward

across New York state

you then encounter the Oneida,

the Onondaga,

the Cayuga,

and the Seneca.

The Seneca are on the western edge of the territory

the Mohawk on the eastern edge of the territory.

The Tuscarora which people will see on this map,

are the sixth Nation and they actually are

from the Carolinas and came up in the 1700s when

they were sort of pushed out because of

Europeans moving in and they asked if they could join.

Now the five original Nations have become six Nations.

It's very important to try to give the foundation

to people about what they're seeing because they'll

start to see this beautiful

artwork done by Iroquois artists

but really who are those people?

What does that artwork mean?

It's very often about their culture and the symbols

and the important traditions in their culture

come out in contemporary artwork.

- There's some Iroquois Nations who are actually living

outside of New York as well.

- Yes there are 18 really what we call Iroquois

communities throughout the United States and Canada.

Most are in New York state Ontario and Quebec

but there's a community in Wisconsin,

there's a community in Oklahoma,

and then of course Iroquois live in cities and towns

all over the world.

You can run into an Iroquois person in

San Francisco.

- [Mike] Everything that I teach here it's everything

that I learned in my grandmas backyard.

It's not something that I learned in college.

My grandmother couldn't speak any English,

she only spoke Mohawk.

My grandfather,

in this contemporary time,

I would call him a recording secretary

for the grand counsel.

My grandfather never went to school,

couldn't read or write a lick,

but he had total recall and photographic memory.

He would sit in grand counsel

and he would put everything to memory.

Throughout the summertime I would witness these old men

coming to visit my grandfather

and he would give them the grand counsel meeting

word for word but when the sun goes down

that moment becomes social and all business is put away

and the stories of history become

what everyone talks about and that's when the

molasses cookies and the milk came out.

I'd eat the cookies.

I'd drink the milk and listen to these old men

talk about the days of their grandfather's grandfathers

and at that time they were great stories.

When I went to college I started to look up these stories

where they fit into history and then I realized that

these were historical stories that my grandfathers

and his friends were talking about

and I didn't want that to be lost.

All I wanna do is through the stories,

through the history,

to let people realize that we're a part of their history too

and a very important part of the history.

- Myths and legends have the ability to transport

people into a world of fantasy.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science turns fantasy

into reality by bringing mythical creatures to life

in an interactive exhibit for adults and children alike.

- Real or make believe?

When it comes to mythic creatures,

such as dragons mermaids and bigfoot,

sometimes fact fuels fiction.

- A lot of these mythic creatures like the dragon

behind us are inspired by people finding fossils

of creatures like dinosaurs that we know today did exist

but not understanding what a dinosaur was and so

comparing it to things they knew or potentially using

their imagination to explain things that

they felt were unexplainable.

Dinosaur bones become dragons.

- [Carrie] As legends go,

dragons from the European tradition are cave and swamp

dwellers who protected their lairs by breathing fire

and there's a perfectly logical explanation

for why the danger of death by fire

would have seemed real as you entered a cave

lit torch in hand.

- It turns out that a lot of caves filled with methane

same thing with swamps and when people would go in with

their torches before there were lights

the cave would poof.

A puff of fire would come out and so you would think

there was something in the cave that was

spewing fire at you.

Potentially a dragon.

- Is there any sense of because these were myths that were

held maybe in the 17th century,

how real these were to people then?

- [Samantha] They were definitely very real.

People in the medieval times buy dragons blood

and dragons bones which were really fossils

or resin from a tree but to buy them for medicinal purposes.

These things were believed to be real and to have real

properties that could help you or save you.

- [Carrie] But some myths actually

did help keep people safe,

indirectly anyway.

- Some of these myths provide a lesson in being careful

about nature,

being careful about certain things so for example the

parents have warned their children

don't go near the water because such and such organism

is living in the water.

Of course that's keeping their kids alive right?

Because it's keeping them from drowning if they don't

know how to swim.

There's a real function that that mythical creature

is serving.

- You are conducting research on a camel spider

which is an actual spider but there are myths attached

to it that this is roaming around the desert and it's

slaughtering camels.

Do we have any sense of how this relatively small thing

has gained such a giant story?

- [Paula] The interesting thing about camel spiders is

they're found in deserts worldwide.

In the Middle East they believe that these camel spiders

can go up to two feet long.

They only get up to about three or four inches

which is still pretty big for an arachnid but they

believe that they can jump up and with their giant jaws

they can take down a camel or a horse and they burrow

into the guts of the mammal and of course they

can't do any of that.

- It's a horror movie waiting to happen.

Cushing's work has helped to debunk theories

of camel killing spiders but the museum has helped visitors

to create some other unbelievable animals.

What did you make?

- An octisnake!

It lives in the water

and it's poisonous.

- I made the death walker,

it lives in the jungle

and it's a carnivore and a cannibal.

- [Girl] A mernicorn.

- [Carrie] A mernicorn that's very clever!

And what does your

mernicorn eat?

- He eats rainbows.

- [Carrie] Mernicorns death walkers octisnakes who knows?

Those creatures might become myths of the 21st century.

- Rooted in tradition and ceremony

dancing is an important part of Native American culture.

In this segment traditional dancers explore the

meaning history and regalia of three unique

Native American dances.


- [Jennie] I love to dance because it gives me

so much life.

When I dance I feel uplifted,

rejuvenated and I feel a sense of pride.

- [Russell] When I dance I really represent

where I come from and my family and my tribe.

The symbols on my outfit and all these designs are designs

that I made.

It's just a really good feeling.

When I started dancing I was probably about 17.

I was just a senior in high school.

My mom helped me buy my first outfit

and then I kinda just started dancing from there.

This one right here

this is actually the first outfit I made.

Kinda means a lot more to me than the others because

I made this one with my mom.

This one's my latest.

Has a lot of detail on it.

Took a long time to complete.

These are

(mumbles) stars they're the tribal symbol.

This is just

a teepee design that I came up with.

It feels really good to dance and

to know that everything that I

am wearing every design is made by me.

It just makes it that much more meaningful.

(singing in foreign language)

The grass dance is one of the older styles of dance.

Back when tribes would come to a new place to

make an encampment they would have these songs

and they would dance in a certain way to lay the grass down.

When they would leave that encampment that grass would

come back up.

It would almost be like they were never there.

(sewing machine)

- I was a very young girl,

I wanna say three or four were my earliest

memories of dancing.

When I was maybe 10 years old

my cousins,

they danced fancy shawl and I danced jingle.

Showing itself to me in a spiritual sense that that's

the style of dance that I'm supposed to stick with.

This dress represents healing and life and is a tool

that we were given as (mumbles) people

to bring healing to the community.

One thing that the jingles are said to do are to

send out that

vibration energy to

loosen up that whatever sickness that is being

targeted and thought of and prayed for

and to pull it through the cone

and then once they're clashing

that they're dropping

that sickness behind you.

(singing in foreign language)

There's two styles of jingle dress.

There's the original style

and there is the second style which is contemporary

which has a lot more intricate footwork

but the style that I dance is original.

Really simple elegant steps

to the beat of the drum.

People approach me and tell me that

I look like I'm floating.


- [Leya] I've been dancing since the time I could walk.

I've always danced

woman's traditional style of dance.

I wear

a broadcloth dress.

I really like to keep my dresses looking traditional.

Our dance clothes and our dances

are really important and are really sacred to us.

(singing in foreign language)

This style of dance honors the returning home

of the warrior.

While he was off and away on hunting expeditions

or in battle.

The reason why I dance this style of dance is because

I really like to remember my ancestors especially the

women and to show their strength and the courage

that they had.

Howls have become universal among all tribes.

I'm just really thankful for the opportunity to be a

part of the circle.

- [Leya] Dancing helps me focus think and it brings me

a lot of happiness and gives my family life.

- [Russell] It's very important as you learn the history

and to pass that on to my kids

and keep that tradition alive

so we don't lose it.

(singing in foreign language)

- Finally in September of 1991

the Guadalupe Arts and Cultural Center premiered its

first performance in celebration of

Mexican Independence Day.

Since then the center continues to celebrate the

Latino roots of San Antonio, Texas

by offering residents a wide range of arts and educational

programming focused on the cities rich history.

(upbeat music)

- [Belinda] At the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

we have amazing programming all year round.

We have our Guadalupe Theater and that's where we present

major musicians,

plays performances.

But in addition to that we have a (mumbles)

where we teach everything from mariachi music

to folklorico dance.

We have something for everyone and for all ages.

My name is Belinda Menchaca and I am the

director of education for the

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

I've actually been with the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

for 24 years.

A year prior to my employment I was on the advisory

counsel for the Guadalupe Dance Company.

We are passing a wonderful milestone

at 25 years as a dance company

which to us is very very symbolic.

To be able to stay together this long and to actually

have one of our original dance company members

as still part of the program.

She is now the dance program director.

- My name is Jeannette Chavez and I am the

dance program director for the

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

From a very early age I have known and always

have known that I wanted to become a dancer.

I knew very early on

that once I was in rehearsal,

once I was in

the dance studio,

once I was in class,

or on stage

there is no other place that I would rather be.

Something just magical seems to happen

when the music is on and you're performing.

Energy completely changes and when our dance company

gets together,

again there's something magical that happens.

We almost seem to have

a telepathic communication that happens that

everybody knows what we're supposed to accomplish

in that time that we're there and even on stage.

In our classes,

which is unique to our program,

we always try to teach our students

not just dances and not just choreography but also the

history and the importance of the music and the dance

and the costumes.

From indigenous pieces to the mystical,

the mixed pieces that are influenced

from the Spanish culture,

there are significant differences in the costuming.

For instance in Vera Cruz there are these beautiful white

costumes that were created specifically for the stage

but that's kind of become the standard.

There's different parts from the lace to the fan

to the headpiece,

the hair comb,

even the style of the footwork.

The way that it sounds,

the music.

Different elements that are used within

a dance performance.

- [Belinda] The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center has

a great significance in our life because they've

provided us

a very safe and creative environment for us as a

dance company,

for our creative work,

for allowing us to bring some of the best instructors

from Mexico,

from Spain because we also perform flamingo dance.

Spanish dance.

It's our families that nourish us and that motivate us

and that inspire us

the children and the families that we teach that are

learning from us.

We hope that we are providing great role models

for our students and their families.

We're connecting them to culture.

We're connecting them to music.

We're connecting them

through something that's culturally significant

and very very very rich.

That's the benefit of our work is that we get to share it

with others.

With our students but also with our audience members.

We pass along all of our knowledge and information to our

academy students.

Our academy is the foundation of our work.

It's the academy that actually provides our future.

They are our future dancers.

By sharing that information we hope

that we're gonna

have another 25 years to celebrate as a dance company.

(tap dancing)


- That wraps it up for this edition of AHA!

For more arts and culture visit wmht.org/aha

where you'll find features about our creative world

in our backyards and across the country.

Until next time,

I'm Katie G thanks for watching.

(relaxing music)

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA! has been provided by

your contribution and by contributions to the

WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include the

Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

and the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality of our

communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.


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