By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Cover Image by Bryan Parker (White Mountain Apache, Muscogee Creek, Mississippi Choctaw)
Kristina Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota) arrived at the colorful, one-of-a-kind bus rolling across the Pine Ridge Reservation. She was there to sell her star quilts during a Buying Day hosted on First Peoples Fund’s Rolling Rez Arts bus, made possible through a partnership with the Heritage Center Gift Shop at the Red Cloud Indian School. While she had sold to the Heritage Center before, on that day she was introduced to the Rolling Rez Arts bus that is making waves on the Reservation and across the country.
“The bus is bigger than life,” says Bryan Parker (White Mountain Apache, Muscogee Creek, Mississippi Choctaw). He is the First Peoples Fund Rolling Rez Arts bus coordinator. “A project that was focused on our local arts community has grown into a national personality.”
Wherever it goes, the bus brings people together — a vehicle for community and creativity.
Through the Rolling Rez Arts program’s annual series of art classes, Kristina held a two-day workshop in the garage space at Racing Magpie in Rapid City, South Dakota. The participants completed their own satin baby star quilt. Kristina is widely recognized in the community as a well-known star quilt maker, so having her instruct the course helped people feel confident in the process. Those with little experience were helped along by Kristina and some of the more experienced quilters in the class, allowing them to overcome the intimidation of quilt patterns.
Bryan also invited Kristina’s husband, Jozee Campos (Kiowa), to teach some of his art mediums — moccasin-making, regalia, parfleche-making, and painting — on the Rolling Rez Arts bus.
“That’s basically what we do,” Kristina says. “We take this art and spread it to other parts of our Native community. The bus has made it more convenient.”
When the Rolling Rez Arts bus first started roaming the Reservation, few people knew what to make of the sky blue bus with its floating white clouds and herd of brightly painted buffalo.
Gradually, people learned what the Rolling Rez Arts (RRA) bus was about, and now climb inside whenever it comes through their area. They conduct online banking through the Lakota Federal Credit Union, take classes, and sell art at the monthly buying days like Kristina did when she discovered the bus.
Now in its fourth season, the bus has become a place where community gathers. Beginner artists climb on board during classes, learning and receiving feedback on their work. Bryan loves watching the results of those interactions.
“They’re taking those skills and applying them to their professional life –– entering art shows and winning awards, using the banking services with the Lakota Federal Credit Union or selling art to the Heritage Center,” he says. “Some apply for First Peoples Fund fellowships or become a trainer to facilitate the Native Artist Professional Development Training. They’re getting involved in some way, and the bus has a role in that.”
The celebrity status of the bus has come to the attention of outlets such as PBS News Hour, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Times, and in the 2019 Rural Action Guide for Governors and States.
Organizations across the country are learning about this model and how it can break barriers that nonprofits face when it comes to developing and nurturing their artists and economies. The bus reaches people in the community otherwise isolated from one another, unable to access resources like banking, markets, and training.
“They can go back to their own communities and add to what they’re already doing in a creative way that will help other people,” Bryan added.
The Bus Goes “On Tour”
Bryan is taking the bus on the road this year, to places like IndigiPop X in Denver, and adding it to the activities surrounding SWAIA - Santa Fe Indian Market.
“It’s like going on tour,” Bryan says. “Taking this bus on the road, we’re telling the stories to other people in hopes that they have some sort of connection to our community.”
Back home, the bus has a full summer schedule with local artists coming on board to teach classes. Micheal Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota), 2018 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellow, is conducting a monoprint class, bringing along his etching press bed that he purchased through his Cultural Capital Fellowship.
There is also the much anticipated five-day film camp. A mix of local artists and former First Peoples Fund (FPF) fellow, Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné), are coming together at the bus to teach 20 youth in documentary and narrative storytelling. Upping the level of commitment for the youth this year is the Indigenous Film Festival in Pine Ridge, which has agreed to show the two film productions planned for the camp.
In June, the bus will head to Eagle Butte, South Dakota, for the RedCan Graffiti Jam. In partnership with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and RRA, FPF artist Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota) is coming on the bus again to energize youth with expressing themselves through art.
While the bus is becoming a national symbol of success for unique ways to provide resources to artists in rural communities, people recognize the heart of the bus beats in its operator, Bryan, and his wife Molina Parker (Oglala Lakota).
“They are uplifting, positive people,” Kristina says. “They’ve become a staple for art in the community. Something like the Rolling Rez Arts bus couldn’t function without people like that.”
Through Bryan’s dedication, the Rolling Rez Arts bus continues to bring people together across the country in many ways, but always in a good way.