Just What We Need
April 23, 2021

Just What We Need

Oglala Lakota Artspace set to open new era for Pine Ridge artists -- and the arts-based economy

Some people look over the vast plains of the Pine Ridge Reservation and see an arid landscape where little grows and the economy idles. But they miss so much.

They overlook a rich ecosystem of resilient Native grasses with deep roots waiting for a little water to leap skyward. And they fail to notice the home-based arts economy, deeply rooted in Oglala Lakota culture, that hums below the surface.

First People’s Fund sees a fertile landscape and for 25 years has supported and amplified the voices in the thriving home-based economy of  artists and culture bearers -- on Pine Ridge and throughout Indian Country -- with working capital grants, training and networking opportunities. Now it’s poised to up the ante and give them something special: a modern creative space of their own.

The Oglala Lakota Artspace (OLA), a $3 million building with individual artist studios, shared workspace for group collaborations, a recording and sound studio, a classroom for art classes and business trainings, commercial space, exhibition space, a performing arts venue that’s perfect home for First People’s Fund’s Dances With Words program for young spoken word artists, Rolling Rez Arts and more, is slated to open this spring. 

Architect Tammy Eagle Bull (Oglala Lakota), of Encompass Architects P.C. and the first Native American woman to become a licensed architect in the United States, designed the building to reflect Lakota star knowledge. The structure announces its presence with clean, geometric lines; corrugated metal and cement board siding that speak to the rugged surroundings; and bold pops of colors. A central courtyard features a trellis clad with an artist-designed sculptural piece to prominently welcome visitors. 

Delayed but not deterred by the pandemic, the new center is a game changer for Pine Ridge artists. And a boon for the reservation economy.

“This is just what we need,” said James Cross who sits on the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council’s Economic Development Committee. “Now our artists will have a state-of-the-art place of their own and the exhibition space and performance space will attract visitors.”
No items found.
No items found.

The pandemic postponed the original 2020 target date for a grand opening, but the first safe steps toward opening are underway. Two First People’s Fund staffers, Oglala Lakota Artspace Program Manager Charlie Cuny (Oglala Lakota), and Youth Program Coordinator Augusta Terkildsen (Oglala Lakota), plan to move into their new offices in early May. Six artists -- representing a wide range of Lakota art -- will move into the new space as Oglala Lakota Artspace Studio Artists later during the month.  The artists all plan to host brown bag lunches to welcome community members to their studios but, due to the ongoing presence of Covid-19, those gatherings will likely be virtual to begin with.

The inaugural OLA Studio Artists are:

Warren “Guss” Yellow Hair (Oglala Lakota): traditional drum maker

Tiana Yellow Hair (Oglala Lakota): recording artist 

Cat Clifford (Oglala Lakota): songwriter, filmmaker, actor, bull rider, painter, leather and tattoo artist 

Helene Gaddie (Oglala Lakota): regalia artist 

Waylon Gaddie (Oglala Lakota): bow maker and regalia artist

Keith Brave Heart (Oglala Lakota): filmmaker, painter and storyteller

The seeds for the Oglala Lakota Artspace were planted with First Peoples Fund’s work back in 1999 with the Lakota Funds and other partners on the reservation.  This included many conversations, planning and later a series of community meetings to get input from culture bearers, artists and the Pine Ridge Community. From there, the idea grew even more following the publication of a 2013 First People’s Fund survey of more than 100 Pine Ridge-based artists and culture bearers, called Building a Creative Economy: Art as an Economic Engine in Native Communities, that found that limited access to creative space was one of the six resources artists need to succeed.  The new facility also aims to provide access to the other needed resources: business knowledge and training, new markets, networks, supplies, as well as credit and capital.

Why is this so important for Pine Ridge economic development efforts?

The 2013 survey also identified a vibrant sector of economic activity on the reservation. Thirty percent of Oglala Lakota tribal citizens on the reservation identify as artists and forty percent of Pine Ridge households rely on some form of traditional arts for income. And given that nearly 100 percent of the artists surveyed reported they do not have access to space, equipment, supplies and materials to create their art, providing artists with the support and resources they need gives a direct economic boost to a large percentage of Oglala Lakota citizens. That is an economic development home run. 

Elsie Meeks (Oglala Lakota), Board Chair of Lakota Funds, has said that throughout her many years of work in economic development on Pine Ridge and throughout Indian Country it has been evident that artists are a key component of local economies.

No items found.
No items found.
1. Cat Clifford, inaugural Oglala Lakota Artspace Studio Artist. Photo by Rory Doyle. 2. Helene and Waylon Gaddie, inaugural Oglala Lakota Artspace Studio Artists. Photo provided by the artists.
“We started out Lakota Funds to help people get into business, and most of the people that were even around the edges of getting into business were artists,” she said. “So the market study published in 2013 really confirmed what we already knew, which was that (many) households on Pine Ridge depend on a home-based enterprise of some kind to provide income. And (the bulk) of those home-based businesses are arts-based.”

All of which makes Lakota Funds a perfect partner in Oglala Lakota Artspace along with First People’s Fund and Artspace, a Minneapolis, Minn.,-based non-profit organization.  

Lakota Funds has been instrumental in bolstering the local economy of Pine Ridge including founding the Lakota Federal Credit Union, the  first banking institution on Pine Ridge. A branch office of the credit union will be housed in the Artspace.

“It means a lot to us at the credit union to be able to take those services out into the community where they’re needed,” said Tawney Brunch (Oglala Lakota) Executive Director of Lakota Funds. 

For Artspace, the leading nonprofit real estate developer for creative communities with over 50 mixed-use rural and urban facilities across the U.S., Oglala Lakota Artspace represents their first reservation-based project.

“Many years of enormous effort have gone into this,” said Kelley Lindquist, President and CEO of Artspace and a member of First Peoples Fund’s board of directors. “It’s a great privilege to be collaborating here on Pine Ridge and collaborating with such extraordinary people.”

The new building, located just across the road from Oglala Lakota College’s main campus near Kyle, S.D., also features a multi-purpose garage, primarily created for First Peoples Fund’s industrious and ground-breaking Rolling Rez Arts mobile arts lab to park when not traversing the 2.1 million acres of the Pine Ridge Reservation to deliver art classes, art supplies, retail, and banking opportunities. The garage, which has a stage at back, can pull double duty as a performance space.

“That’s the nicest garage I’ve ever seen,” said Bryan Parker (White Mountain Apache/Muscogee Creek/Mississippi Choctaw), the Rolling Rez Arts Program  Coordinator. He said he’s excited about what lies ahead. “The classes that are now programmed on the bus can get people gravitated to the new building,” he said. “I’ve been using the word ‘connection’ a lot. Traditional knowledge and contemporary knowledge coming together. People learning from one another. That’s what I’m excited about. Having that new space is a big move. It’s going to be huge.” 

Artists and past First People’s Fund fellows agreed. “It’s hard not to think about what a difference ... this new facility will make in our community,” said beadworker Molina Parker (Oglala Lakota.)  Added painter Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota):  “I just think about if there had been a place like this when I was young, I would have gotten going as an artist a lot quicker. Oglala Lakota Artspace is going to change a lot of lives for the better.”

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the building in 2018, First people’s Fund board chair Sherry Salway Black (Oglala Lakota), shared with the crowd that she wondered how different her father’s career path might have been if something like Oglala Lakota Artspace had existed to nurture his work as an artist when he was growing up on Pine Ridge and said she hopes that the space will provide encouragement to people who want to deepen their artistry.

“Artists, culture bearers, young people –– everyone in the community can come together to share resources, to learn from one another and really look at it as being the foundation of the economy here, the creative economy that’s on Pine Ridge,” she said.
No items found.
No items found.
<< previous post
No previous post.
Return to all posts
next post >>
No next post.
Return to all posts

Related Posts