Taking the leap to work as an artist… and only an artist

It's a year of beginnings for Dyani White Hawk Polk (Sicangu Lakota).

What the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based artist had hoped would happen at some point in the next three to four years has unfolded in front of her this year.

"I made the big, scary jump to self-employment," explained White Hawk Polk, which included resigning from her position as director and curator of the All My Relations Art Gallery in March and moving from St. Paul to Shakopee to pursue a full-time art career.

It was a good move.

"It's been crazy busy, but it's a good thing," she said.

White Hawk Polk creates paintings and mixed media art. She also does beadwork and quill work, skills she learned from family friends and then later honed at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work is a mix of modern abstract painting and traditional Lakota art forms.

"My life experience and education are a mix of western and Indigenous," she said. Her father is German and Welsh and her mother is Lakota, creating a complex family story. "My art has come from trying to figure out how to negotiate all that in myself," she said.

White Hawk Polk has had a long-term goal of creating artwork full-time, and realized that this year was the time to take the leap when she was granted a First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship as well as a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painter's Grant.

"My goal was to get to the point where I could just do my artwork," she said.

It was around the same time that she was offered another full-time job and considered taking it instead of self-employment. She sat down with her family, including her husband, mother, her mother's husband, and her sister-in-law and her partner, to make the final decision. If it wasn't for their support, she said she likely wouldn't have made the leap.

"They said, 'This is your real dream,'" she recalled. "They said, let's jump on it and we'll all figure out how to make it work."

White Hawk Polk said her family moved in with them to make it all monetarily feasible, and her husband now stays home with their two-year-old. The encouragement from her family made the difference. "Without their support and guidance, I may have taken the other job," she said.

With the Artist in Business Leadership fellowship, White Hawk Polk has purchased a new computer and digital projector, as well as industrial-grade tools and equipment for a wood shop. "I can do my own framing, which saves money," she said. "And, if I needed to, I can do it for other people."

She is grateful for the support from First Peoples Fund.

"I'm beyond excited," she said. "I can't even explain what it feels like."

One of the greatest changes in her life has been a separation between work and home. "For so long, I was working seven days a week," she said.

The days are still long, she said, as she works to meet deadlines before she can begin building an inventory. "But when I'm home, I'm home," she said. "Or on the weekends, I get to actually be present. It's so rewarding and refreshing. I feel healthier."