TUSAYAN — It was during last year’s South Rim Native American Art Show and Ceremonial Pow Wow that Grand Canyon’s famous California condors made a rare appearance in Tusayan.
James Peshlakai expects his art show and entertainment event to be a success in Tusayan.
Eight condors circled the Labor Day event, as if they were wondering what was going on down below. Their appearance created quite a buzz among those in attendance.
Navajo artist and entertainer James Peshlakai hopes a new series of art shows will create a buzz among other types of Grand Canyon visitors this summer. If everything falls in place, including the approval of a special-use permit by Coconino County, then the art shows will debut over Memorial Day weekend next month.
"We will open up Memorial Day weekend until the end of September," Peshlakai said, adding that the event would run on weekends only. "Everybody going by will look into the horseshoe (of vendors). On one side, we’ll have an announcers stand and entertainment."
Tentatively called the Grand Canyon Native American Art Show and Dances, the event will be staged Saturdays and Sundays during daytime hours only on Thurston family land between the Grand Hotel and McDonald’s on the east side of State Route 64. The Thurstons donated the land rent-free for the event.
"Red Feather is making the land available, but James has done everything on his own," said Clarinda Vail of Red Feather Properties. "In his little time in our community, I think his impact has been huge."
In a meeting with about a dozen interested businesspeople Thursday afternoon in Tusayan, Peshlakai went over details of the planned event. Last fall, he organized a similar art show and pow wow in the same spot that was called a success.
For Native American artists, there will be a limit of 22 vendors arranged in a horseshoe shape 75 feet from the highway. The vendors will each be sold 10-foot selling spaces and arranged in clusters of two.
"We’ll have 22 vendors, that’s not a whole lot. But it won’t look like a zoo, circus or fair, but nice," said Peshlakai, who has a vast background participating in such shows. "In back, we’ll have parking spaces for vendors with Port-a-Pottys and trash bins. The sign will be portable; a banner three feet wide and 12 feet long. There will be two of them for a total length of 24 feet."
The vendor area will be set up and torn down before and after each weekend event. An entertainment stage, which will include logs set up in a circle for seating, will be permanent through the summer.
Peshlakai, who is a silversmith, and his wife, Mae, will be one of the vendors. He also plans to sell Navajo tacos, fry bread and non-alcoholic beverages.
The entertainment will feature not only local dancers from Grand Canyon and Cameron, but from other tribes around the country, including Sioux entertainers from South Dakota. Entertainment will be staged twice in the early afternoon and then a longer show will be presented in the late afternoon into the early evening.
The art show is all part of the Peshlakai Cultural Foundation, which funds educational activities in a commitment to preserve Native American culture. However, there are plans to dissolve the foundation as it now exists and become part the Arizona Community Foundation.
"We are going to go under another foundation," Peshlakai said. "They represent hundreds of foundations and do all of everything. All we do is raise money and tell them how to it’s to be spent."
Peshlakai mentioned several advantages to joining the Arizona Community Foundation, ranging from Internal Revenue Service hassles to a grant matching program.
"I think the Peshlakai foundation was going to get old in two or three years; it would have sizzled out," he said. "If we go under the Arizona Community Foundation, they promise the Peshlakai Cultural Foundation will be forever."
An advisory committee will make decisions on where foundation grants will be awarded. Peshlakai said a lot of schools ask him and his wife to teach culture. The money will go to schools mainly in the form of after-school programs.
Through the new foundation, a minimum of 5 percent of funds raised will also go back to the community each year through local grants.
Peshlakai said there is an initial investment of $10,000 required to become part of the Arizona Community Foundation, but he foresees no problems raising the money. The Peshlakai foundation currently has $5,000-plus in its account and the rest of the $10,000 will be raised through this summer’s events.
The next hurdle to clear will be approval from the Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission. A hearing is scheduled for April 30 at 5 p.m., at the county administration building, 219 E. Cherry St., in Flagstaff.
If approved at the hearing, there would be a 15-day period for objections or appeals. Peshlakai hopes things can move forward by May 15 to get ready for the first show.
"If approved by Planning and Zoning, we’ll advertise in the Tusayan-Grand Canyon Tourist Guide," Peshlakai said. "We’ve found that to be the best advertising we’ve had. Last year, I took those to New Mexico and Utah ... and when people pick them up, they have four hours to read it before getting here."
An impressive-looking magazine will also be distributed at the event. In it, there will be stories on Native American culture and the Grand Canyon, among other things.