A Native Talk on Urban Indian

Thursday, December 19, 2019 by Stephanie Luciano

Artists from the exhibition, Women of Sweetgrass, Cedar and Sage, friends and community members outside the American Indian Community House Gallery, 1985. Photo by Jesse Cooday.

In an effort to learn more about Native American communities and their history, Education & Marketing intern Stephanie Luciano interviewed Educators and Curators who contributed to the opening of the recent exhibition Urban Indian: Native New York Now at the Museum of the City of New York. As you listen to these interviews, you'll learn about each individual's background in Native American studies and how this exhibition reflects their personal and professional viewpoints.

It isn’t common to step out of my comfort zone and allow the audience to listen rather than read my work. But I felt it was necessary to be heard and take a closer look at the way Native Americans shape our trendy city.

I got “behind the scenes” on this episode and spoke to individuals who were passionate about spreading the knowledge of Natives in our City and allowing them to share their stories:

Rebecca Jacobs, a 2017-2019 Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow who co-curated the previous exhibition Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis and now co-curator of Urban Indian: Native New York Now. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University, with a concentration in public humanities.

Rick Chavolla, who has been in Education for most of his professional career. He left his full-time job at NYU to do consulting on his own and is now on several boards like the American Indian Community House who serves as board chair.

And Pilar Jefferson, who has worked as an Education Coordinator at the Museum since 2015. In college, she studied art history, but always had an interest in culture through art to expand and tell a story about marginalized people.

I toured Urban Indian as three different people; a visitor, an educator, and an interviewer. I was intrigued by visiting the exhibition; reading about each object and formulating its purpose in the museum. As an educator, I was looking through the lens of the artist, noting what most stood out to me and putting together a script for students. As an interviewer, what was left behind was the essence of the exhibition. What did I want to know that was not being told in depth?

I explored the topic of Native Americans in my city. We’re taught about Native Americans in history, but where are they today? Urban Indian: Native New York Now “is really less a show just about Native folks, it’s about New York City and understanding the city better through native perspectives.”


Stephanie is an undergraduate student at Lehman College pursuing a Bachelor of arts degree in Journalism with minors in Media Communications and Business Administration. She began interning at the museum in 2017 and came back early on in the year to intern for both Education and Marketing. Her interests lie in pop-culture and entertainment but she finds it important to understand the city of New York through the arts. Previously interning for a local paper in the Bronx and having several production projects on the side, she feels the museum has helped build her engagement with the audience. Stephanie is not sure where she'd go next, but she knows she has a wider perspective on New York City and the people in it. 

By Stephanie Luciano, Education Intern

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