Watch the roads! Rolling Rez Arts is coming to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Native American artists on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota will soon have a place to get tools and support they need, and take advantage of shared partnerships with other organizations. Rolling Rez Arts is going to be rolling on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation soon thanks, in part, to just-announced support from ArtPlace America. Rolling Rez Arts will be a mobile unit that will travel across the reservation delivering art, business and retail services that otherwise would be inaccessible.

ArtPlace awarded First Peoples Fund a $385,000 grant this month for Rolling Rez Arts, as part of more than $10 million in grants they recently awarded 38 organizations across 26 states aimed at furthering the position art and culture has in helping to strengthen communities' social, physical and economic fabrics.

"With the investment made by ArtPlace, First Peoples Fund and our partners at Artspace and Lakota Funds will be able to purchase the Rolling Rez Arts unit that will reach every corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation and beyond, giving access to the tools and support artists both need and deserve to overcome barriers that they may face," said Lori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund. "We are so incredibly grateful for ArtPlace's commitment to our mission to support Native artists and culture bearers doing deep cultural work in their communities."

The grant from ArtPlace follows the $300,000 Bush Prize for Community Innovation awarded to First Peoples Fund from The Bush Foundation, which was announced this past winter.

The concept of Rolling Rez Arts comes, in part, in response to a study conducted by First Peoples Fund, Artspace, Leveraging Investments in Creativity, Northwest Area Foundation and Colorado State University, that explored the challenges and successes experienced by Lakota artists on Pine Ridge. The study found that more than half of Native households on Pine Ridge are engaged in home-based businesses, and 79 percent of those businesses are in the arts. It also found that 61 percent of emerging artists have incomes of less than $10,000, but through participation in workshops and trainings—like what will be offered through the mobile art unit—that number dropped to just 7.5 percent.

The impact—and possibility—of this approach to working alongside Native artists and providing training in their communities is already bearing fruit in the new and stronger partnerships being created between artists and local service providers, and the teams of people who are working together to ensure the economic and social wellbeing of the reservation.

"Roughly 40 percent of households on Pine Ridge depend on traditional arts for incomes," explained Pourier, citing the first-ever market study that revealed facts, insights and possibilities have been overlooked and untapped for far too long. "With the availability of mobile outreach to a large cross section of the reservation population, this project will engage artists to create a significant opportunity for poverty alleviation. The success of the artists is the heart of this project."

Tawney Brunsch of Lakota Federal Credit Union on the Pine Ridge Reservation said that she is anxious for the opportunity the new mobile unit will provide to the reservation's most outlying districts.

"For nearly three years, we have been providing savings accounts and consumer loans to our reservation community," Brunsch said. "With over 2,100 members and $4.7 million in assets, we've been able to serve many members of our community. We also know that there's an unmet need with just one location in Kyle. This mobile unit will help us to offer our services and expertise to more artists, eliminating the distance barrier."

Twenty-nine percent of the grantees awarded grants from ArtPlace this summer are from rural communities, with populations less than 50,000. "The National Grants Program is actively building a portfolio that touches each of the sectors and stakeholders that make up the community development field," said F. Javier Torres, director of national grantmaking at ArtPlace. "We're thrilled that this year's grantees represent a dynamic spectrum of creative approaches and partnerships in community development."

ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie Bennett echoed those comments. "There continues to be a growing understanding in this country that artists are the one asset that exists in every community and that artists have a unique value to add when they work alongside other citizens in shaping the futures of their communities," he said.

"And that," added Pourier, " is exactly what we believe is happening—and will continue happen in new and exciting ways—as a result of this mobile unit. We see it in the excitement and creativity and perseverance with which Native artists on Pine Ridge are working together with us, and amongst one another, to create a vibrant cultural and economically-sustainable community. We cannot wait to see how the next months unfold when we launch the mobile unit, and the impact it will have in the years ahead."

The grant from ArtPlace comes on the heel of grants from The Bush Foundation, The Ford Foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, and USDA Rural Development, all of whom have partnered with First Peoples Fund in the planning, community outreach, and research that makes this innovative mobile unit a reality.