“Telling the Stories of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community”

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“Telling the Stories of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community”

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April 3, 2024

Accelerated Learning Academy Students Earn High Marks at Heard Museum Marketplace

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The future of fine art photography in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is in great hands. On the weekend of March 2 and 3 at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, three students currently enrolled at the Accelerated Learning Academy received top honors for their photography work.

Cynthia Morataya, Jasmin Richards and Vanessa Francisco submitted their photographs to the Heard Museum Guild Youth Art Show & Sale. Every year, American Indian youth in grades 7 to 12 from tribes across the United States are invited to submit their original artwork for professional judging. Students can enter art in a variety of categories—pottery, weaving, jewelry, beadwork, paintings, photography and more—and compete for ribbons and more than $10,000 in cash prizes.

The student artwork is also on sale during the event, with the money from the sales going to the students. A small percentage of the proceeds goes back to the Heard Museum for the continuation of their art programs throughout the year.

Using a Canon Rebel camera, Francisco submitted a monochrome photo of her sister lying on the pavement during nighttime in the Community. The background shows a street sign denoting an upcoming stop sign on the road while the pitch-black night sky fills the rest of the image.

“I used a flash,” said Francisco. “We walked outside, laid on the ground and tried out different angles,” she said.

Morataya, Richards and Francisco were all assisted by Salt River Schools Communications and Public Affairs Director Taté Walker.

“They took the camera home. This is stuff they do in addition to their schoolwork,” said Walker. “It’s a great example of initiative and pure talent.”

Morataya submitted a photo of a little boy holding onto a gourd while singing with other gourd singers. The photo, taken during the school’s social gathering celebration in November, shows the boy singing with the adult gourd singers, showcasing the different generations of singers as they all sit in a row together.

Accelerated Learning Academy Students Earn High Marks at Heard Museum Marketplace
Cynthia Morataya’s photo showcasing multi-generational singer earned her several awards during the event. 

“The title is ‘Beginning of a Gourd Singer Legacy,’” Morataya said. The photo was captured in the moment and unplanned. “I’ve been taking pictures with my mom’s phone since I was little. It’s been a lot of fun,” said Morataya.

For her work, Morataya received both the Native Spirit Award and the Red Ribbon award in the Photography category.

The editing process did not require much work, only about five minutes for minimal color correction and brightness, Morataya explained. “All of the work was done in camera,” said Walker proudly.

“I have a lot of [pictures] of sunsets and sunrises. I live in Lehi, so you can see Red Mountain just perfect, so I get the sunrises really easily,” said Morataya. Using part of her winnings, Morataya plans to purchase a camera of her very own. “I’ve wanted a real camera since I was 8 years old,” she said.

Richards’ photo showcases two women in traditional regalia teaching a little boy in a ribbon shirt how to dance. She also took her photo during the social gathering. When Richards’ photo sold, the good news spread quickly throughout her family. “It was just a shock; my mom was so happy,” said Richards.

“Vanessa and Jasmin submitted [their work] to a Native high school photography contest as well,” said Walker. “They submitted fabulous photos of dancers from our NARD celebration [this past November]. At the time, Cynthia wasn’t part of the photography group, but she soon joined them.”

Receiving high praise and monetary awards for their work, the three budding artists are well on their way as they enter their senior year at the ALA later this year.

“It’s no longer just a hobby; you are professionals,” Walker told them. “Any art school would love to have you.”