Jaclyn Roessel is leaving the Heard Museum to devote more time to Grownup Navajo, a creative enterprise she launched in 2012. Her last day at the Heard Museum will be Friday, February 3. And come mid-February, she’ll be moving from Arizona to New Mexico.
Roessel, who was born and raised on the Navajo Nation, joined the Heard Museum’s education staff in 2006, shortly after earning her bachelor’s in art history at ASU. She’s since earned a master’s in public administration from ASU, and currently serves as public programs and education director for the museum.
“I am so grateful to have had my first real job out of college be my dream job,” Roessel says of working for more than a decade at the Heard. “It was a tremendous gift that has really fostered my growth.”
During Roessel’s tenure, the Heard launched its NU Native + You series for First Fridays, which draws diverse audiences for a creative mix of visual and performance art. Memorable First Friday offerings have included an original dance performance honoring Frida Kahlo, choreographed by Liliana Gomez.
Last year, Roessel curated her first exhibition, a show titled "Confluence" that paired works by seven established artists with works by seven emerging artists they mentored for the exhibition, creating a bridge between generations. Roessel says the experience of working with “Confluence” artists reminded her of the power of creativity to inspire action and build community. “I realized how critical art is to understanding each other," she says.
Now, she’s focused on creating bridges between Native traditions and contemporary life. Leaving the Heard will give her more time to write and perform her own poetry, share reflections on cultural identity on her Grownup Navajo blog, and create events and experiences meant to foster understanding between people of different cultures.
“There are still so many stereotypes and false information about many communities, including the Navajo, and it’s important for me to help break those stereotypes,” Roessel says. While working at the Heard, she’s spent years thinking about how she could do more. And her own creative life has been evolving.
“Grownup Navajo started as a grieving process after I lost my grandmother about five years ago,” Roessel says. “It grew from a place of wondering how I would continue to learn Navajo stories and roles, because she was always that touchstone for me.” But soon others expressed interest in her cultural musings. “I set out to process my own life, and people gravitated to it.”
It’s been rewarding in several ways, she says, including bringing greater awareness among non-indigenous people. “It feels good to be seen when you live in a society that doesn’t always see you.”
A lot of people who aren’t indigenous can relate to Grownup Navajo, Roessel says. Today she sees it as a place of kinship and relationship, where people recognize their responsibilities to one another. “Grownup Navajo is a community that challenges each other to be better and do better,” Roessel says.
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It’s clear that Roessel’s creative practice has a strong activism component. “The Standing Rock movement really inspired me to think about place, and how everywhere you stand, there is sacredness,” Roessel says. Recently she participated in the January 21 Women’s March in Phoenix, then posted a YouTube video sharing her reflections on art, politics, identity, and activism.
In mid-February, she’ll be moving to an area just outside Albuquerque, where her partner Warren Montoya has a multifaceted art practice incorporating multiple media, indigenous identity, and activism. But Roessel plans to return often to the Phoenix area, in part so she can share creative Grownup Navajo events with the community she says will never leave her.
“I’m proud of standing with other Phoenix creatives to make it more inclusive, with greater intersectionality,” Roessel says. “I’ve fallen in love with the desert here, and it’s really given me a foundation for stepping into my womanhood, my being, my power.”