Oconaluftee Institute chooses Queen as program coordinator

Joel Queen has been named the new program coordinator and instructor at the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts in Cherokee.

“We stand on the edge of becoming a truly unique voice in the world for indigenous art and culture,” Queen said.

Queen, whose art is displayed in such places as the Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum in London, says that art is the same language wherever you go.

“The language of our Cherokee art is so storied with paintings, weaving, wood crafts, stonework and ceramics and I’ve spent my life creating in the Cherokee mediums,” said Queen, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “I’ve been able to make a successful living at it but now it’s time for me to give back and that’s why I chose to work with OICA.”

Luzene Hill, program outreach coordinator for the institute, also has work exhibited in private and corporate collections across the country. Hill said that the institute will benefit from leadership by an artist whose work has been passed down over the generations. The institute gives students a foundation in traditional methods but also gives them the freedom to create contemporary art, Hill said.

Students of all skill levels are welcome at the institute, a joint endeavor of the Eastern Band, Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University.

Students can earn an associate of fine arts degree from Southwestern. If they want to continue their education, they can transfer to Western Carolina University, or any other college in the state university system, as a junior to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree.

“Not all of our students want to go for a higher degree, and we help them find their place in the market,” said Queen. “That’s important — they can be a great artist, but if they don’t know how to market their work, they won’t be able to make a living from it.”

At present the classes are small enough that instructors can individualize a program around the student’s skill level.

“Here at the institute we respect and honor the traditions of our Cherokee ancestors. But after students master technique, we encourage them to show innovation and creativity,” said Queen.

“For our Cherokee culture to evolve, our art must evolve first ... and art is the same language, no matter where you go.”

While the institute is a mix of traditional and contemporary, the students are also a mix. About half are Cherokee and the others represent a mix of cultures, according to Hill, an EBCI-enrolled member.

“The more students we get, the more programs we can offer,” she said.

For more information call 828.497.3945 or stop by the new location at 70 Bingo Loop Road in Cherokee.

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