Joining together to create a new home for artists on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Native American artists on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will soon have a place to learn, sell, collaborate and house their work, thanks to a project organized by Minneapolis-based Artspace and First Peoples Fund.

In an effort to provide better resources to Native artists, the two organizations are in the beginning stages of a project to build a 7500-square-foot multi-use art facility in Kyle, South Dakota, as well as a mobile art lab. The building in Kyle, anticipated to begin construction in 2014, will include a large mix-use space for 10-20 artists; three to four discipline-specific working spaces; smaller individual studio spaces for master artists; a classroom and conference room with a computer lab; a gift shop and fine art gallery for artists to showcase their work and trade; and a bunkhouse for visiting artists.

“It is needed tremendously,” said Greg Handberg, senior vice president of properties at Artspace, an organization that helps artists around the country locate, develop and finance affordable space.

The idea for the labs on Pine Ridge came from a recommendation from the American Indian Creative Economy Market Study Project survey, which was conducted in the fall of 2011 by First Peoples Fund, Artspace, and Dr. Kathleen Pickering Sherman and graduate students from Colorado State University (CSU). The survey looked at household economics, social networks and infrastructural needs of Native artists, and examined the support programs available for Native artists.

An estimated 30 percent of Native peoples are practicing or potential artists and most live below the poverty line. Fifty-one percent of Native households depend on home-based enterprises for cash income, and 79 percent of those home-based enterprises consist of some form of traditional arts.

Art is a sustainable way to make a living for many families on the reservation, but the disconnect between artists and the marketplace, resources and quality business training is a hurdle, the survey said.

The new art center and mobile lab will go a long way in fulfilling that need, Handberg said.

“Art is a huge economic driver,” he added. “We believe that if we provide a way for these artists to get some training, it will significantly improve their income, and their way of life.”

In both the mobile lab and the permanent facility, artists will receive technical assistance, mentorship and support, he said. The mobile lab will serve as a way for artists to purchase or trade supplies without having to drive a long distance.

The plans for the new building have been drawn, Handberg said, and they are now in the stage of programming and outreach. There is still a ways to go before all the moving parts in the project align to begin construction.

Artspace has also assisted in several other Native-based cultural centers, including a gallery space in Minot, North Dakota, and a Native Hawaiian cultural center in Honolulu, Hawaii. The project on Pine Ridge will be financed through fundraising, Handberg said, and is special because of the way it has been designed.

“From the very start, this has been specifically envisioned for the needs of Pine Ridge artists,” he said.