First Peoples Fund fellow seeks to spark dialogue through studio

It's a big year for Michael Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota). He's combining two of his loves—music and art—in hopes of securing a future for not only himself in the Native art world, but others as well.

He's well on his way, thanks to a boost from First Peoples Fund, which awarded him an Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship to fund a combined album release and art show planned for later this year.

Two Bulls has been an artist for more than a decade, honing his contemporary artwork skills at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico before opening Bad Art Press in Rapid City, South Dakota with Douglas Two Bulls. The studio currently includes a silkscreen business and a recording studio.

With funding from the fellowship, Two Bulls has been working alongside other artists to develop a music album completely packaged by the art studio, including the music, lyrics, recording, and album sleeve printing and design. The studio will host an album release party and art show in October at Crazy Horse Memorial, and they are currently marketing the event by printing t-shirts, posters, stickers and patches.

"It's a huge undertaking," Two Bulls said. "It's been kind of crazy. It's a lot of work."

But it's also been a great boon for business. "We've been wanting to do this for quite some time, and this gives us the opportunity to set goals and deadlines," he said.

Two Bulls has also enjoyed the opportunity to work on music. "I've been recording for years, doing local gigs, but no full-length album," he said, describing his music as indie rock.

Two Bulls said it's been gratifying to work with First Peoples Fund through the process. "For Native artists on the reservation, there is no other income," he said. "You kind of have to create your own jobs. Art is how my relatives make a living, and to have an organization promoting that livelihood is important for those communities and their culture."

Two Bulls said he hopes for the Bad Art Press studio to someday become a place for artists to come together to collaborate or simply have a place they can create.

"We want to invite artists and assist them," he said.

His motivation, he said, is that art sparks ideas and dialogue among people. His vision years ago to have a small shop to house a group of artists and talents is an example of that.

"A small-shared dream or vision among peers could lead to lifelong friendships," he said. "I know this to be true because I am a living example of this philosophy. Today, we are close to the original vision and now we have the space and equipment where we can begin our work."