Breaking Ground on Oglala Lakota Artspace

This month First Peoples Fund and partners Lakota Funds and Artspace broke ground on Oglala Lakota Artspace, an 8,500-square-foot Native arts and cultural center on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The $2.75 million construction is scheduled for completion in late 2019 and will include individual artist studios, shared workspace for group collaborations, a recording and sound studio, a classroom for art classes and business trainings, commercial space, a storefront for Lakota Federal Credit Union and more. The new arts space will be located across from the Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce near the Prairie Ranch Resort and the Oglala Lakota College administrative offices and a few miles down the road from Thunder Valley CDC.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, First Peoples Fund President Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota) said, “Oglala Lakota Artspace didn’t just happen overnight. It has been in the works for many years and we’re having a moment of celebration.” Lori and Sherry Salway Black, First Peoples Fund board chair, were a part of the founding of the Lakota Funds in the mid-1980s. Lakota Funds’ early research made a strong case for supporting Lakota artists and culture bearers.

Others echoed that sentiment, chronicling the years of work that have gone into making Oglala Lakota Artspace a reality.

“Many years of enormous effort have gone into this –– building relationships and trust, years of community outreach and market studies to project planning and development,” said Kelley Lindquist, president and CEO of Artspace and a member of First Peoples Fund’s board of directors. “It’s a great privilege to be collaborating here on Pine Ridge and collaborating with such extraordinary people.”  

 Tawney Brunsch (Oglala Lakota), Executive Director of Lakota Funds; Kelley Lindquist, President of Artspace; and Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota), President of First Peoples Fund stand beside shovels designed by local artists. The organizations have partnered to form Oglala Lakota Artspace, LLC and will collaboratively oversee the facility.

Tawney Brunsch (Oglala Lakota), Executive Director of Lakota Funds; Kelley Lindquist, President of Artspace; and Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota), President of First Peoples Fund stand beside shovels designed by local artists. The organizations have partnered to form Oglala Lakota Artspace, LLC and will collaboratively oversee the facility.

For Artspace, the leading nonprofit for real estate development for creative communities with over 50 mixed-use rural and urban facilities across the U.S., Oglala Lakota Artspace represents their first project in South Dakota and their first-ever reservation-based project.

“We might leave this world and leave these positions,” said Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribal President, Scott Weston, “but those artists, their work is going to continue. Oglala Lakota Artspace is about sustainability for our tribe, for our traditions, our ways and our culture. It’s my honor to be here, because this is what we as tribal leaders push for.”

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The local community has been pushing for Oglala Lakota Artspace as well. Years of community engagement meetings helped confirm the need for the facility. Consistently the need for physical workspace was a top priority both for individual studios and for gathering space where artists could collaborate.

Identified in First Peoples Fund’s 2013 market study as one of the six resources artists need to succeed, space is provided through the creation of Oglala Lakota Artspace. The facility also aims to provide access the other resources: Business knowledge and training, new markets, networks, supplies, as well as credit and capital.

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Elsie Meeks (Oglala Lakota), board chair of Lakota Funds, said that throughout her many years of work in economic development on Pine Ridge and throughout Indian Country, it has been evident that artists are a key component of local economies.

“We started out Lakota Funds to help people get into business, and most of the people that were even around the edges of getting into business were artists,” she said. “So the market study published in 2013 really confirmed what we already knew, which was that 51% of the households on Pine Ridge depend on a home-based enterprise of some kind to provide income. And that 79% percent of those home-based businesses are arts-based.”

Lakota Funds has been instrumental in bolstering the local economy of Pine Ridge and helping to create local access to essential economic infrastructure. Since its founding in 1986 as the first Native Community Development Financial Institution, Lakota Funds has been a leader in local economic development and in the Native CDFI field. In 2017, Lakota Funds provided over a $1 million in loans, created over 100 jobs and helped launch nearly 50 businesses.

“I think Lakota Funds is doing incredible things here every day to break down road blocks and create economic opportunity on Pine Ridge,” said Dennis Alvord, U.S. Economic Development Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary of Regional Affairs, as he addressed the ground-breaking crowd. “I really applaud your leadership.”

“I think Lakota Funds is doing incredible things here every day to break down road blocks and create economic opportunity on Pine Ridge. I really applaud your leadership.”
— Dennis Alvord, U.S. Economic Development Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary of Regional Affairs

Tawney Brunsch, executive director of Lakota Funds, emceed the event. She has been a fierce advocate of creating access to financial resources throughout her career. She was instrumental in helping to establish the Lakota Federal Credit Union –– the  first banking institution on Pine Ridge, which shattered projections for accounts opened and financial products provided within the first quarter of operation. Oglala Lakota Artspace will expand that success by providing another permanent location for the Lakota Federal Credit Union.  

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“I can’t lie, I’m most excited about the financial piece of this project,” said Tawney. “Oglala Lakota Artspace will provide a second location for the Lakota Federal Credit Union –– although we might have a location in Pine Ridge before then!” she said, laughing.

“And I want to mention that we’ve had a bit of practice in this testing out this partnership through the Rolling Rez Arts bus helping Lakota Federal Credit Union take our products out to meet the needs of our members in the districts,” Tawney said. “It means a lot ot us at the credit union to be able to take those services out into the community where they’re needed.”

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First Peoples Fund’s Rolling Rez Arts bus is a state-of-the-art mobile arts classroom and banking unit, which, depending on the day, can be found providing banking services to community members or hosting art classes taught by one of the 22 local artists and culture bearers. In three years of operation, the bus has driven over 8,500 miles and taught over 75 Native art workshops to nearly 1,000 artists of all ages.

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The bus also partners with The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School to provide scheduled “buying days”, traveling to local communities to wholesale purchase art to be sold in The Heritage Center’s gift shop. Buying days help artists overcome barriers to transportation and increase their income.

“We know here on the Pine Ridge reservation, one of the biggest challenges we deal with is the distance,” said Tawney. “The Rolling Rez Arts bus has been an opportunity to not only grow our partnerships but also to provide a resource that meets the needs of our community members.”

The value of partnerships was a recurring theme at the groundbreaking, with numerous thanks exchanged between everyone for their contributions to making Oglala Lakota Artspace into a reality.

“I promised myself I wasn’t going to get emotional, but it’s hard not to when I think about what a difference First Peoples Fund has made in my life and what a difference this new facility will make in our community.”
— Molina Parker, Oglala Lakota Artist & First Peoples Fund Fellow

“These longer term partnerships are the ones that really pay off in what you’ll see exemplified here with Artspace, with Lakota Funds, with the credit union,” said First Peoples Fund Board Chair Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota). “They are really transforming this economy. And I want to acknowledge that over the last twenty-five years, Lori, through First Peoples Fund, has really focused on artists and culture bearers and how that informal sector is really grounded through artists, through culture bearers, through home-based businesses. ”

Artists and past First Peoples Fund fellows Molina Parker (Oglala Lakota) and Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota) shared their own stories of becoming artists and learning how they could support themselves and their families with support from First Peoples Fund.

“I promised myself I wasn’t going to get emotional,” Molina laughed while getting teary-eyed. “But it’s hard not to when I think about what a difference First Peoples Fund has made in my life and what a difference this new facility will make in our community.”

“I just think about if there had been a place like this when I was young, I would have gotten going as an artist a lot quicker,” Wade said. “Oglala Lakota Artspace is going to change a lot of lives for the better.”

Sherry shared similar feelings on the potential Oglala Lakota Artspace will have for transforming lives. She shared with the crowd that she wondered how different her father’s career path might have been if something like Oglala Lakota Artspace had existed to nurture his work as an artist when he was growing up on Pine Ridge, and she hopes that the space will provide encouragement to people who want to deepen their artistry.

“Artists, culture bearers, young people –– everyone in the community can come together to share resources, to learn from one another and really look at it as being the foundation of the economy here, the creative economy that’s on Pine Ridge,” Sherry said.