Founded in 2021 by Zach Feuer and Becky Gochman, the Forge Project is a Native-led initiative located on the unceded homelands of the Muh-he-con-ne-ok in upstate New York. The Forge Project works to provide fellowship opportunities to members of state-enrolled tribes.
Through its fellowship program and events, the Ancram-based organization works to upend the social and political systems that have been established through generations of settler colonialism.
“Forge’s mission is multi-faceted, and includes the collection and platforming of Indigenous art, furthering decolonial education, and supporting leaders in culture, food security, and land justice,” Executive Director Candice Hopkins says.
On the Muh-he-con-ne-ok land, designer Ai Weiwei worked in collaboration with HHF architects to create structures that connect fellows to their natural surroundings. Creating two spaces with modern features, natural light, and open concept living, the Forge Project allows fellows the opportunity to accomplish their art and research within the buildings.
The Tsai Residence is the larger of the two buildings and features a modern and sleek aesthetic. Inside, the space consists of four equal-sized boxes in which the Forge Project hosts its public programming, including special-topic talks with fellows.
Sitting parallel to the Tsai residence on the land is a Y-shaped building. The upper floor features a circular skylight that shines on the art gallery below. The house has a fluid living and studio space where Forge fellows live and work during their stay.
The fellows rotate throughout the spaces during the year depending on what works for their schedule. Some fellows have connections to the Hudson Valley because of advocacy work or the Native American populations in the area.
“The Hudson Valley is in many ways a microcosm of the larger issues facing the country, including displacement and land rights, and therefore felt like an appropriate site for a social justice endeavor rooted in the land,” Hopkins says.
In 2021, the Forge Project Committee selected four recipients for its fellowship program. Each fellow selected had different skill sets and specialties that honor Indigenous communities.
Chris Cornelius from the Oneida Nation was selected as a Fellow in 2021 for his work as an architect and professor. Cornelius designs spaces for Indigenous clients through the translation of Indigenous culture into architecture.
Sky Hopinka, a member of Ho-Chunk Nation/Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, was selected as a Fellow in 2021 for his body of work that examines the relationships between the history of place, indigeneity, and colonialism. His latest works engage with the complexity of language and geography. Hopinka is a visual artist and filmmaker whose culture is expressed through personal, documentary, and non-fictional forms of media.
The third fellow recipient in 2021 was Brock Schreiber. Schreiber was born and raised as a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans and continues to live there with his wife and children today. He’s a student and teacher of Mã’eekuneeweexthowãakun and a Tribal Council Leader. In addition, Schreiber also writes children’s books.
The final recipient selected as a 2021 fellow was Jasmine Neosh from the Menominee Native American Tribe in Wisconsin. Neosh is a writer, student researcher, and advocate for environmental justice. Her work focuses on Indigenous sovereignty, climate change education and culturally-informed, place-based sustainability. Neosh is working on a field guide to restore knowledge loss surrounding food systems and native plants.
This year, six recipients were selected, and each will receive $25,000 toward their practice. In addition to the grant, fellows also receive full access to the libraries, the Forge Project site, and the lending collection of living Indigenous artists during their fellowship.
In addition, the Forge Project works in cooperation with Sky High Farm, a nonprofit whose aim is to “increase access to fresh, nutritious, locally produced food while investing in collaborative long-term solutions for food security.” The collaborators look forward to their first year of cultivation on the grounds of the Forge Project in Ancram. The Forge Project also supports other local organizations such as the Bard Prison Initiative, Kite’s Nest, Wise Bodies, Stockbridge Munsee Community, and more.
“We wanted to invest in the local community here and are partnering with a wide range of organizations to do so,” Hopkins says.
In order to qualify for the fellowship program, applicants must be registered citizens of a federally recognized tribal nation or Canadian First Nations. In addition, applicants must be enrolled members or citizens of a federally recognized American Indian tribe, Alaska Native corporation, or of Native Hawaiian ancestry. Every year, at least one Fellow is selected from the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.
After applicants submit their required materials, The Forge Project fellowship jury reviews the applications and selects the fellows for that year. The applications are judged and reviewed by a panel of six distinguished scholars, artists, writers, and former fellows: Misty Cook, Dr. Anton Treuer, Dr. Meranda Roberts, Rose Miron, Sky Hopinka, and Dr. Jolene Rickard.
The individuals who get selected for the fellowship represent a broad diversity of participatory research, cultural practices, art, and geographic contexts that honor Indigenous pasts and futures.
After working on their selected projects for three weeks, the 2022 fellows present their work to the local Forge Project audience onsite. In addition, the fellows’ work will be showcased to a larger audience on social media.
Altogether, the Forge Project hopes to provide opportunities to Native American populations to embrace their pasts and futures. Working in the Hudson Valley allows fellows to be present in their surroundings and embrace the history of the unceded Muh-he-con-ne-ok lands above the Catskill Mountains.