Sandra Dolak, Huajatolla Heritage Foundation

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The Huajatolla Heritage Foundation is a grassroots organization of artists, educators, and community leaders in La Veta, Colorado. Through festivals and events, the foundation aims to preserve the rich heritage of this region of Colorado through sharing culture, language, art, and spiritual beliefs and to foster a sense of pride in person heritage. Sandra Dolak is one of the visionaries behind the festival, and she expanded on the work the festival is doing.

CultureBank Questions

Where – in what community – do you primarily do your work?

We are working on cultural literacy issues in Huerfano county, Colorado generally, but La Veta more specifically. Huerfano county is in southern Colorado. It is large geographically (150,000 square miles); small in population (7,500 people) and one of the poorest counties in Colorado. It has a rich history of early Hispanic and Native American travelers and settlers and the overall population is still 31% Hispanic. La Veta is a small town (788 people) in a beautiful location nestled below the Spanish Peaks (the Huajatollas). It is an interesting mix of wealthy, white retirees; artists and musicians; aging hippies from the early commune inhabitants; and a tiny smattering of the original peoples that gets smaller every day with gentrification and lack of affordable housing. The mascot in La Veta is still the Redskins.

What gets you going each day and inspires your current work?

When it was suggested that I leave town (along with a death threat!) when I suggested that it was time for the 70-year-old mascot to be changed, my passion was ignited to showcase all the many ways the Hispanic and Native American cultures influenced our very roots.  This is to be done through something loosely defined as “cultural literacy.” So far we have done two Heritage Festivals, plus numerous workshops and classes over the past two years. 

When you work in your community, what are the most valuable assets of the community that you experience aside from real estate and money?

The rich historical legacy. The small handful of people that care. The Hispanic and Native population that has been rendered invisible. Ironically, the interest and support from caring people outside our communities.

How does your artistic practice inform and/or is integrated into your enterprise?

The tagline of our two Festivals is “showcasing the Hispanic and Native American cultures through art, education, and presentation.”  Huajatolla Heritage Foundation truly believes that art can be the universal language! We invite artists to participate and ideally demonstrate their crafts; this includes visual artists as well as musicians and dancers.  We have speakers and events, both at the festival as well as at other venues throughout the year that address issues of cultural significance. We’re currently planning a program for September, 2019 of storytelling which will feature 4 different nationally known visual artists that tell the stories of Native Americans in entirely different approaches through their own style and medium.  Along with an art show, we will have a stage that will have speakers and flute players throughout the day. It will culminate in a concert that evening with a medley of Native American flute players sharing their styles and gifts. We are offering this as a free thank you to the La Veta community for supporting our cultural literacy efforts.

“Slowly, I believe we are making a difference.”

What is the impact of your work on your community? Today? Over a long period of time?

Slowly, I believe we are making a difference.  Our festivals have been very well received! Although our evidence is qualitative, not quantitative, we feel that there is a greater understanding and acceptance of how diverse cultures have impacted our area.  

The two major Native American events for artists in our “corridor” are the Denver Indian Mart and the huge, prestigious Santa Fe Indian Mart.  Although a lofty goal for our small town, we would like to become a third respected market that is between (both geographically and calendar wise) the two major events.

I mentioned earlier that Huerfano County is one of the most impoverished counties in the state of Colorado. Organizing these events has a positive economic impact on the area. It is generally agreed that in the future the most promising  potential economic driver for our area will be tourism. As we cast a wider and wider net for participation, we know that our events are contributing to building a stronger tourist base. The economic value of our efforts cannot be overlooked!

The Nitty Gritty

When was your organization or project founded?

Back burner for 15 years; started formulating in 2017; filed with Colorado Secretary of State 2018; Received federal non-profit status March of 2019.

What is your staffing situation like?

Basically, “you got me, babe”. Board is supportive; 99% of the work is done by one person.

What is your annual budget?

Shoestring; We have an Art in Society Grant for $20,000 plus and additional (approx) $5,000 that we have stretched over our first two years.

How does your revenue break down?

$20,000 Art in Society Grant

$4,000 donations

$1,000 booth fees, sales, tickets

Find out more about the Huajatolla Heritage Foundation ››