According to the 2000 Census, less than 1 percent of people living in Dallas County are part or fully Native American. In the Preston Hollow area, it’s less than one-half of a percent. Hardly surprising – Dallas isn’t exactly known for its large Native American population.

What is surprising, then, is that the Preston Hollow area is home to the American Indian Arts Council (AIAC). The nonprofit organization, which has been around for 14 years, offices at the Preston Forest Shopping Center.

It works throughout the year to promote Native American art, culture and tradition by providing speakers and artists for group events.

Area resident Pat Peterson, who is five-eighths Choctaw, has volunteered with AIAC ever since her brother founded it 14 years ago. “The whole thrust of our organization is education, to share Native American art and culture,” she says. “All during the year, we have a roster of presenters available for organizations or businesses who want cultural programs. And we’re very, very active in children’s cultural activities.”

AIAC offers demonstrations in Native American music, dancing, art, history and foods, shaping the presentation to what the requesting group wants. “It’s for people who want the real thing,” Peterson adds. “We’re not just sending anybody out there who claims to be Native American.”

Though it offers programs throughout the year, the event AIAC is best known for is its annual festival, the American Indian ArtFestival and Market, held each year in October.

“It’s a spectacular show,” says AIAC president Charlotte Bennett. “During the arts festival and market, Santa Fe comes to Dallas. The people who show art, jewelry and pottery there are the same people who do the show here. I don’t think a lot of people who’ve never attended realize that that’s where the talent comes from.”

Bennett, who isn’t Native American, joined the organization several years ago because she wanted to help preserve Native American art. “Like anything else that’s handcrafted, it’s becoming a dying art,” she says. “Most of the artists are older, with very few younger people taking it up as their livelihood. It’s too tedious.”

She and her family own and operate Castle Gap Jewelry, which sells Native American jewelry in three locations across the Metroplex. She says she’s loved the art and culture for most of her life. “I’ve always been involved in Native American Indian art,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the hand-crafted aspect, with the stones hand cut and hand set.”

More than 150 vendors usually attend the annual festival, selling goods that include jewelry, rugs, pottery and paintings for exhibit or sale. The event also features performing artists, with flutes, dances and children’s presentations occurring throughout the show. “We usually average representatives from 40-50 different tribes,” Peterson says. “Our presenters come from all over the country, although the vast majority live in New Mexico.”

In its 14th year, the festival is one of AIAC’s major cultural programs each year. “It’s become a wonderful community tradition,” she says. “It’s the only one of its kind available in that area. We have that distinction, and it’s a high quality event.”

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