Art is Everything with Tanya Vigil and Cassie Funmaker

Below you will find an episode of Bridging The Potential Podcast between our guest, Tanya Vigil, and one of our very own founding Youth Advisory Council members, Cassandra Funmaker.

And now, onto the show…

If you liked what you heard and want to watch and/or listen to the rest of this incredible conversation, you can click here to create a completely and forever-free account with us. And if you’re interested, check out the first two chapters of Renee Beth’s book: Living The Potential: Engaging the Wisdom of Our Youth to Save the World which you can find here. Thank you so much for listening. ‘Til next time!

Tanya Vigil You know, it just shows them how they see their world and how they see a better world. And so a lot of them, you know, reacted to seeing a world that was  more environmental. You know, they put themselves like, you know, in a forest with water. And this is the world they want to see for themselves. And these are fourth graders that did this project.

Cassie Funmaker Welcome to Bridging The Potential: Intergenerational Conversations that Change the World. This is Cassie Funmaker, founding member of Living The Potential Network’s Youth Advisory Council with a question for you. What happens when you bridge the experience, education and expertise of an elder with the curiosity, energy and innate wisdom of a youth? It’s simple. Everyone grows and the world changes for the better. One conversation, one connection, one collaboration at a time. Today’s podcast is no different. Renee Beth connected me with Tanya Vigil, who is an experienced and indigenous arts educator based out of Taos, New Mexico. I think you will enjoy our conversation about the arts and how they relate to wholesome indigenous healing. My favorite part of this podcast was when Tanya shared her perspective on how youth are navigating a post-2020 world and how the arts can help with that.

Renee Beth Poindexter [00:01:52] Hello, this is Renee Beth Poindexter and I am the founder of Living The Potential Network, and I’m your host today with this amazing podcast. After I wrote the book, Living The Potential: Engaging the Wisdom of Our Youth to Save the World, I set out to find ways to create spaces where people could actually hear what the youth have to say. And that’s what this podcast is all about. I love these conversations where after listening to where a youth’s dreams and aspirations and concerns, we connect them with an elder or a mentor who has experience and wisdom to share in the topic that our youth is most interested in and is open to learning. And from the innovative spirit of the youth, this is reciprocal learning at its best. Today and always in these podcasts, I leave inspired. And I think you will too.

Today I have a beautiful mentor and a wonderful youth advisor from Living The Potential and a conversation today. The first person I’d like to welcome is Tanya Ocana Vigil. And she is an amazing, wonderful woman that I met, had the pleasure of meeting in person in New Mexico, Taos, New Mexico. She’s an Aztec dancer, a gallery director, and she’s also an elementary school arts director, as well as a curator. So she is very busy up to her purpose and passion on how to make a difference on this planet. So, Tanya, welcome. And Cassie Funmaker is the youth that we’ll be speaking with. And Cassie has a vision for sharing indigenous wisdom in ways that can support healthy living, bringing back what the Indigenous people have always wanted to share and weren’t always heard. So she’s got a path for that. And this is a match that I would say is made in heaven.

So let’s start with you, Tanya. I love knowing and sharing your background because how did you become involved, I love how you say you’re a fifth generation of family that have been teaching you all along the importance of indigenous wisdom and all of the, I think, you have a blend of Mexican and Spanish and native blend in your blood and it’s just really helped you design your life in a way that brings it all to the communities in which you work. So how did this all start? What was your earliest memory of being passionate about the things you’re up to right now?

Tanya Vigil Well, as a child, I was brought up by some very strong women, women that were natural seers, women that were very much of the earth and of our tradition and culture here in northern New Mexico, Taos. And so they really set out my footprints at a very early age by encouraging me to be part of this natural world that we live in and to respect it. Because if I can respect myself, I can respect others. If I can love myself, I can love others. And if I can take care of this earth or myself, rather I can take care of this earth. So it was a real important message that they put in my memory as a child, and especially the importance of how we connect to the natural world and to also be very much in balance and in frequency with with the natural world.

Renee Beth Poindexter Beautiful. So it’s- you have this influence around you that helped you really connect. There’s also the relationship between art, dance and nature. It’s like it’s been with you all along. Can you reflect on some of those earliest memories that helped solidify who you were becoming, you know, from a little girl to where you are today? What are some of those moments that these amazing women helped you experience?

Tanya Vigil Well, also, as a child, I got to be around a family, especially my father. He was a jazz musician. So I got to be around a lot of musicians at a very younger age, anywhere from jazz to flamenco. And then I, I also was introduced by both of my parents to appreciate art, that everything in life was art. Even the food that we created was art. And to appreciate the arts through dance, through music. And so at a very early age, again, I was really surrounded by a lot of artists and including my parents, which really gave me such an insight that not a lot of a lot of people have.

And so I could say that I really did live it from being five years old and going to an old auditorium and seeing these incredible flamenco guitarists playing to Maria Vinicius, who’s one of our greatest dancers here in New Mexico. So all those impressions really stayed in my mind. But also the light here in Taos is incredible, and that’s also what draws a lot of artists into our community.

Renee Beth Poindexter Absolutely perfect. But this idea of dance, you know, there was a moment in time when you were a young girl that you witnessed a dance that really impact and made an imprint on you that fast forward as part of your life today. Could you tell us about your fascination with dance and how that came about?

Tanya Vigil Well, yes. Also, I have relatives at our local Taos Pueblo here as well, our village. And so as a child, too, I would go out there with my relatives and witnessed a lot of the incredible indigenous dancing that we have that is part of our community and our culture and our traditions here. And so I really felt the movement, but more importantly, I saw that it had such a significance to the corn, to the animals and that vibrational feeling of the dance and knowing that it’s also healing. Later on, I was then also part of a of a group that was a theater group that came from San Jose. And there were some Aztec dancers that came. And again, I was very- it was quite the impression for me to see this. And so I continued Aztec dancing and that’s how my path grew into also being part of a larger circle in the United States and Mexico.

Renee Beth Poindexter Absolutely. And as a matter of fact, you have a title of Capitana. What is that all about?

Tanya Vigil Yes, a Capitana, which is the feminine, but a Capitana is a person of authority in a sense that directs the group. I’m part of a lineage of other dancers in Mexico and [?]. And so in a sense the the idea of this more patriarchal sort of a setup is that we have the [?], which are the generals. The Capitanas is which are the captains and the Soldalos, which are the dancers. But the Capitan or Capitana pretty much directs the dance group that they have formed. And the idea is to also every year host a feast day of celebration and ceremony. And ours is St James of the Four Directions. But in 1990 by several other elders, I was made this Capitana, and I could say it also comes as a double edged sword.

Renee Beth Poindexter Right. But that’s a blessing and a lot of ways because some people who- it’s an indigenous ceremony and it relates what you say, the Saint James of the Four Directions, and that’s something about the Indigenous wisdom that has emerged and celebrated in your life related to the dance. And then there’s some other ways in which you keep that alive in your life. We’re going to get to the elementary school project in a minute. That’ll really be taking the world by storm. If the listeners to this haven’t heard about it, you will. But this idea of the native wisdom that’s come through the dance and the music and the art, what are those rituals and practices that you think are really healing?

Tanya Vigil Well, again, I feel that with the teachings which are… The teachings are, in a sense, a mix of toltec, [?], and it it is a host conquest. So a lot of the the ceremony and dances reflect the coexistence, really, of a lot of what existed when the Spanish came in and conquered a lot of south and Mexico and even North America. So it changed within time. And so it really does encompass both the naturalism and the Catholicism. So for three and a half days, for instance, with our ceremony that we celebrate with other dancers in Mexico, it’s three and a half days, but it’s, again, balancing the naturalism and the Catholicism. So we know that underneath the churches are the pyramids that were built on top of them and especially in [?] it’s amazing how many buildings are built on top of pyramids, but the idea, too, is that we’re also paying respects to our relatives, our ancestors that really gave their lives so that this culture and tradition could coexist.

And so I feel it’s a very important continuation of energy and history and knowledge that could have very easily been wiped out. And so it still continues to coexist. It’s a way of healing the earth. It’s also a way of healing people that especially nowadays, the dance really engulfs you, brings you in and can really help you balance. It’s a form of medicine through the type of [?] that we wear on our feet, to the rattles, to the drums. And it’s all art as well. We also very much have a lot of music and songs and pre-Colombian also music that is part of it.

Renee Beth Poindexter It’s beautiful and I’m witnessing- and I’ve been to the sun dance ceremonies and so forth. I’ve never participated in any I know you have, but there’s something… It’s magical. You know, some people look at it as entertainment and yet there’s something larger going on. There’s, like you said, a healing happening not only for the dancers, but for the for the people observing and being there and being a part of it. It impacts the community, whether they’re aware of it or not, because it’s in somehow celebrating the Earth and the earth can feel it and the native people are very aware of that. That’s the part I feel that with colonization and all of that that’s come in, that’s impacted or stopped native wisdom from being heard and seen and appreciated.

Your work in this area is bringing back that awareness and maybe it’s alive and well in Taos, New Mexico, more so than any other place. But I feel like if it’s happening in one place, it can happen in many places. So, I so appreciate the work that you’re doing now. This ties in, like you said, everything is art. Everything is art. Your parents told you that, right? So fast forward to the work that you’re doing as an elementary school art coordinator. You recently have been in a project that really helped do the healing related to community, related to the pandemic. Could you tell us a little bit about that project?

Tanya Vigil Yes. For the last sixteen years, I’ve been working with the Taos Municipal Schools under the direction and through the New Mexico Public Education Department. But this particular grant that we receive is through the FAEA which is the Fine Arts Education Act. And so here in Taos, we are fortunate, like other school districts that have that opportunity, the 89 here in New Mexico, to tap into a funding that is especially for kinder through fifth elementary art students. I know we are branching in eventually to secondary, but for the last 17 years, I’ve been coordinating this program and my idea was to bring in artists to share a special component that they would not normally get through the art teachers, which also we’re very fortunate to have our teachers in our elementary schools because that was always left on to the classroom teacher.

So students also have that opportunity to participate with art teachers. But my visiting artist program consists of artists coming in and teaching jewelry, belting, glass, mosaic, murals, printmaking, music, dance, and theater. So we are under the four strands which really is great because it’s, you know, the amount of talent that our students have. And some of them don’t necessarily want to participate in singing or dancing or acting or doing art. But because there’s those four strands, some of them feel very comfortable in the various arts that we offer. But the elementary arts program also gives kids the opportunity to also have a venue to show their arts, the visual arts and the performing.

So this year, we were so fortunate to include this incredible book, which is our eighth one through the school district and published. It’s called La Tormenta de Taos. And the idea of La Tormenta was to bring in- first of all, Tormenta means a storm. And we felt that the tormenta was what we had been going through the last couple of years, which is COVID. And so we felt and we knew that students were going to come back. And so we really wanted to recreate them going back into singing and dancing and music and acting and also illustrating the various artwork for the book that was created and also based on healing, on health and knowing how we as stewards of this land can bring this message not only through the animals, because the story was based on a rabbit that took the message out to five other different animals, but also that we can encourage and be those stewards in our community.

And it can start at a very small community like Taos and expand globally. So I have every- I have all the confidence that I know that that will happen. And I we’re very excited. There were three third grade classes that participated from our three different school sites. And so it just really was an incredible and beautiful event for our community and it was a joint community effort as well.

Renee Beth Poindexter That’s awesome. Well, part of it, what I noticed, and we’ve talked about this before, is through the pandemic and all the shifts and changes that were happening in schools, people felt isolated, they couldn’t come to school. And a lot of times in certain areas they didn’t have access to Wi-Fi, so they couldn’t even actually access the work that the teachers wanted them to do from home. And the teachers were concerned and they wanted an engagement. And then when school started back again, it was like everybody felt like, I don’t know what to do. You know? It was like, we have to catch up to what we’ve missed.

So a lot of anxiety about all the precautions and so forth. So bringing the seven different artists in to work and co-creating this play, it was like an opera, right? In other words, what do you think that the third and fourth graders got from the experience and their parents and teachers and so forth as a result of being there? Because it was, in my opinion, I wasn’t able to be there, but the idea I thought was: It’s the arts. It integrates a new way of being in relationship with people, and it includes so many other subjects in the process. So this play brought third and fourth graders together with these different strands of art. What did they take away and what do you think the community got as a result of the program?

Tanya Vigil Well, I feel that a lot of what the children experienced was pretty much already a memory. You know, it’s interesting how it’s kind of inherent in them, but I felt that just even the songs, because the songs were in Spanish, brought them back to their childhood and their memory of their grandmother and grandparents. So we also wanted to make it intergenerational, which was really important. And we did do that by the little [?], who actually had her grandfather and her grandmother and various other family members that were also part of the play. And we also felt that the actual advice that our ancestors gave us on healing ourselves through the herbs and and, you know, a lot of the parents that remembered that as well, I just felt it was a very intergenerational combination from the activity of the parents to the students. But it was, you know, they remembered a lot as well.

And so I felt that students, just to hear them singing again and and dancing and, you know, just being really creative and then, you know, it’s a lot to be able to memorize these lines and especially because the play is bilingual and the book is bilingual. So that was really great, too, seeing students, really, some of them not knowing some of those words as well to to hear it and to feel it. Because that’s the other thing about art, that it’s all in essence, everything is in essence. And so you can feel it. You can taste it. And you can sense it. And so that’s what was really incredible about the play.

Renee Beth Poindexter Absolutely. So the whole community came out as a result. I think this idea of La Tormenta de Taos is an idea that can actually grow to other locations. The concept of bringing art together to different localities and where people could bring in their own regional aspects to it with what artists can bring to the classroom. It’s very exciting to see this because we’re living in the 21st century. We need to learn to collaborate in ways where art opens up the space for the communication, for the collaboration, for the critical thinking in community, which you say intergenerational was the magic that made it happen- the Grandmas and the Papas and the Baby Sisters and everybody participating. And it just raised the bar on engagement, right? So the enthusiasm for learning went up.

Tanya Vigil And I want to say too, I don’t know if I mentioned this in any of our other interviews, but I wanted to say that at the same time that we were performing this play at a very beautiful gallery here in Taos, we were looking off to our mountain range and we were literally on fire. There was a plume of smoke and so a lot of us would just like gaze over there because it was getting closer to a lot of our northern communities. And it was it was also giving us an idea and an impression of what was going on around us. So I just wanted to bring that in as well because I know just the community, just seeing all that going on at the same time. It  was very interesting.

Renee Beth Poindexter Right, exactly. Because there’s from the play, there are some hey, let’s remember what we need to do to be proactive in the middle of a storm, whether it’s a pandemic or it’s a fire. And it does take a community to work together to solve the issue. And you were doing that with the play. I love this, Tanya. There’s so much more. We’ll get more detail on the book and so forth. I want to bring up Cassie.

If you liked what you heard and want to watch and/or listen to the rest of this incredible conversation, you can click here to create a completely and forever-free account with us. And if you’re interested, check out the first two chapters of Renee Beth’s book: Living The Potential: Engaging the Wisdom of Our Youth to Save the World which you can find here. Thank you so much for listening. ‘Til next time!

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *