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Native American Artist and Entrepreneur, Louie Gong Supports Native Artists and Communities Through Eighth Generation and The “Inspired Natives” Project.
Louie Gong (M.Ed) is an artist, educator and public speaker who was raised by his grandparents in the Nooksack tribal community. Although he is best known for his highly sought after, hand-drawn custom shoes, Gong has received international recognition for a body of work that, like his mixed heritage (Nooksack/Chinese/French/Scottish), defies categorization.
A former Child and Family Therapist, Gong started addressing racial and cultural identity professionally in 2001. He went on to become President of MAVIN, a national non-profit that raises awareness about mixed race people and families.
As the founder of Eighth Generation, Gong merges traditional Coast Salish art with icons from popular culture and influences from his mixed heritage to make strong statements about identity.
The name “Eighth Generation” references the inter-tribal value of “Seven Generations”, which suggests that we consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. “By naming my business Eighth Generation, I embed respect for the previous generations in all my work and recognize that my successes are a result of our collective effort. Eight is also a lucky number in Cantonese because, when spoken, it sounds the same as the word for prosperity”, says Gong.
Rather than following the well-worn pathway for artists toward working with galleries, Gong has pursued product development as a means of making his work sustainable while keeping it accessible. In 2012, Louie launched “Mockups”, a DIY art toy based on his work with youth and his desire to a make the experience of personalizing a pair of shoes more accessible. He followed up by launching home decor and phone cases in 2013. By financing and developing these products on his own, Gong hopes to blaze a trail to a greater degree of self-determination for other artists and entrepreneurs.
In 2014, Louie launched the Inspired Natives Project. The Inspired Natives Project aims to help highly skilled and motivated artists shift from either the handmade or gallery-based model of selling art to an arts entrepreneurship model where artists participate in product development and distribute to markets around the globe. Gong teaches the artists how to maintain a large following and strong web presence. Just like Gong a few years ago, they simply struggle to meet demand with their handmade goods because the knowledge about how to develop products based on their art — and the capital needed to do so — is largely absent in Native American communities. In collaboration with these arts entrepreneurs, called “Inspired Natives”, Eighth Generation and the individual artists help each other grow. There has been a surge ofnon-Native made “Native-inspired” goods on the market that ultimately squeeze out Native artists, this kind of creative mining makes bringing Native-made and designed products to market even more important.
In 2015, after many years of hard work, Eighth Generation became the first Native-owned company to offer beautiful wool blankets. The first production run was a custom designed blanket in honor of The Evergreen State Longhouse’s 20th Anniversary.
Gong was recently honored with the cover of Native Peoples Magazine, and Native Max Magazine’s list of the “Top 10 Inspirational Natives: Past and Present” and Indian Country Today’s “Faces of Indian Country 2015.” He also received the Seattle Indian Health Board’s Adeline Garcia’s Community Service Award, through which the nation’s largest Urban Indian Health Clinic recognizes community leaders for volunteer service.