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Tribe, area colleges collaborate on art degrees

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Officials with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on Monday unveiled plans for a new Associate in Fine Arts degree focusing on Native American art to be offered in collaboration with Southwestern Community College.


“The arts are part of our past as well as part of our future,” said Juanita Wilson, Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts Advisory Board Chair and Deputy Administrative Officer of the tribe’s Community Education and Recreation Services Division.

The two-year degree from the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts will follow the general education requirements for North Carolina community colleges and public universities including basic English, science and math courses. However, the program will emphasize Native American art and culture, particularly that of the Cherokees.

The curriculum will include contemporary and traditional Cherokee arts such as basketry and weaving, pottery, beadwork, mask making, sculpture, wood and stone carving. There also will be a performance component featuring dance, drama, storytelling and music, as well as photography, printmaking, graphic design, audio-visual and web design courses.

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The courses will be offered through Southwestern Community College but taught at the Oconaluftee Institute on the Qualla Boundary. SCC and the Oconaluftee Institute have in turn established an agreement with Western Carolina University allowing students who complete the AFA to transfer into the four-year college as juniors pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Students also may transfer to any other public university in the state with up to 65 hours worth of credit.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks said the concept for the Oconaluftee Institute grew out of an idea originally conceived under the leadership of Chief Leon Jones to provide a university for the Cherokee people. The partnership between the Institute, SCC and WCU will not only allow current artists to seek a degree, but facilitate the passing on of traditional Cherokee arts to younger generations, Hicks said.

Art is what provides a window into a society’s soul, said WCU Chancellor Dr. John Bardo.

“It is through the arts that we see the expression of their core values,” he said.

The program will enrich both the Cherokee community and non-Cherokee students. The Eastern Band will provide support funding for the AFA program’s start up and short-term sustainability, plus tuition for students who are enrolled members of the tribe. Non-tribal member students are allowed to enter the program; however, they will be required to pay their own tuition and fees.

“We think this will be an enormously enriching endeavor,” said SCC president Dr. Cecil Groves.

A national search is underway for a program coordinator to head the AFA program. The program is expected to launch in spring of 2007.

Meanwhile, students interested in the AFA program should complete an application for admission available at or by calling the Office of Admission at 828.586.4091, ext. 352.

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