By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
With construction underway for the new Oglala Lakota Artspace in Kyle, South Dakota, First Peoples Fund held several community meetings to hear from the people this space is meant for. From February through this summer in Rapid City, Kyle, Pine Ridge, and Batesland, community members and artists gathered to lend their voices in shaping the upcoming art center.
“They were excited to see something like this, especially on the Pine Ridge Reservation,” says Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota, First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2017). He is a full-time artist with studio space at Racing Magpie in Rapid City. “The community meetings gave them hope that they can show their work and have it visible in a public venue rather than simply doing art at their kitchen table, or to get gas money, which is fine. But it opened up their minds to, ‘Hey, maybe I can make a living out of this.’”
The community members represented an array of contemporary and traditional arts. Both emphasized the desire for teaching and attending classes from computer animations to brain tanning hides to business training.
“I can’t stress enough about knowledge, the art knowledge from other artists and what it is to sustain yourself from your art,” Wade says.
Though the community members were sometimes reserved at first, ideas gradually flowed in a steady stream:
• Traditional art, culture bearers classes
• Wood carving, shop tools and materials, access to all tools
• Business and marketing classes
• Photography classes
• Science classes
• Fashion design, regalia making
• Music recording
• Native Art and Art Appreciation class
• Internet accessibility and online marketing classes
• Dance classes (ballet, hip hop, pow wow)
• Harvesting animals, using all parts of the animal
• Bringing the community together through fun events.
With the large number of tourists that come onto the Pine Ridge Reservation annually, community members suggested several ideas to create selling opportunities for artists. Some community members proposed a weekly art market, and extended hours during peak seasons. Tourists come from around the world and often cannot travel home with a large piece of original artwork, so there was an emphasis put on creating memento-style pieces that can be sold at markets at the building.
There are studio spaces available for artists, a media room for film and music recording, it is satellite space for the Lakota Federal Credit Union.
A common concern at the meetings was the issue of transportation. While there is a public transit system available on the reservation, it is not always cost-effective. First Peoples Fund (FPF) is exploring the possibility of offering vouchers to ensure as many artists utilize the space as possible.
“People want a space like this where they can go and continue learning, passing on that cultural knowledge,” says Bryan Parker (White Mountain Apache, Muscogee Creek, Mississippi Choctaw). “It’s something good coming near them in the community that everyone will have access to. It will be like a meeting hub.”
Bryan is the First Peoples Fund Rolling Rez Arts bus coordinator and has something unique he is looking forward to with the Oglala Lakota Artspace (OLA). The building will have a garage for the bus to protect it during severe winter months. This will serve as a home base for the bus as it continues reaching out to communities and can lead people back to the building.
Community members thought of ways the Oglala Lakota College can get involved with OLA.
“I attended one of the first meetings because I hope to start a conversation about possibly establishing a partnership with the college,” says Keith BraveHeart (Oglala Lakota). He serves as art instructor for the Oglala Lakota College and is a 2019 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellow. “One of the problems we have with the college is that we’re not a centralized campus. We’re at different college centers, and it’s difficult to conduct a proper arts course like painting or advanced drawing. I hope we can work something out and see how that can feed into the vision of what the space may be. This space is going to set a new standard for what art can be.”
In our 2013 market study, First Peoples Fund (FPF) found that 51% of households on the Pine Ridge Reservation depend on a home-based enterprise to provide income. 79% of those home-based businesses are arts-based.
To support this Indigenous Arts Ecology, 51% of FPF’s annual budget, on average, stays in South Dakota. Over the past five years, FPF has granted more than $5 million to local businesses, artists, staff, and trainers, and to support local programming.
“I’m excited for people to have more opportunities to better themselves with the Oglala Lakota Artspace,” Bryan says, “to instill that confidence in themselves as creative doers and thinkers.”
Too often, artists hold back on sharing their work, uncertain if it’s good enough. Wade sees the space as a chance for them to open up. It takes courage to put themselves in the public eye, and he hopes the space is somewhere they are comfortable doing that. They will be among a wealth of business and cultural knowledge.
“If First Peoples Fund brings artists from across the country, it’s a good way to broaden the horizons not only with our own reservation but with others,” Wade says. “To understand why they draw certain things, why they build from certain kinds of materials. It’s a way to spread cross-cultural knowledge with Indigenous people across the United States. The art space can always have something going, always something new, like a breath of fresh air on the reservation.”
“We could be the IAIA of this region,” one community member said. “There should be a massive arts presence here.”