A Red State’s Arts Blues

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Rolling Arts on the Pine Ridge Reservation

With his horses foaling, Tony Richards, 63, said that he would not have had time to make the hourlong drive from his corner of the sprawling Pine Ridge Reservation to the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School to sell jewelry to its gift shop, which has emerged as an important supporter of the reservation’s Lakota artists.

But last week, the gift shop came to him — on board Rolling Rez Arts, an airport shuttle bus that has been transformed into a mobile art classroom and credit union office. “Buying Art Today,” read a whiteboard outside the bus, which was parked in Martin, on the reservation.

Mr. Richards took a wooden jewelry case from his car and got on board. Carmen Little Iron, the gift shop’s manager, checked his tribal identification card to comply with federal laws governing the sale of native arts — his was from the Oglala Sioux — and bought several of his finely wrought bone chokers, beaded cross necklaces and earrings.

“A lot of people don’t have vehicles, so this is good that they do it this way,” said Mr. Richards, who heard on KILI, the reservation’s radio station, that the buyers were coming to his district. “I’ve got 18 horses I take care of, and right now they’re foaling, so I have colts out there I’ve got to watch, because we’ve got mountain lions and coyotes. A lot of times I didn’t have time to go over there.”

The idea for the Rolling Rez came from a recent study that found that more than half of native households on the reservation, one of the poorest parts of the nation, are engaged in a home-based business, and 79 percent of those produce some kind of art — but that most of the artists earned less than $10,000 a year and lacked cars, training and ways to meet buyers.

“So we had a conversation about doing something on wheels — with access to markets and access to supplies,” said Lori Pourier, the president of First Peoples Fund, a group that supports indigenous artists. It joined other groups to create the Rolling Rez, which received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this year. It offered more than 50 classes in art and entrepreneurship last year, mostly on Pine Ridge, but also on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations.


Outside the Rolling Rez bus, the Native American artist Robin Flynn cuts chains for jewelry sold to the Heritage Center. Credit Kristina Barker for The New York Times

Rapid City’s Community Hub

The Dahl Arts Center, which was built in 1974 and given to the city by a prominent local banker, is famous for its 180-foot cyclorama telling the economic history of the United States. But the Dahl, managed by the Rapid City Arts Council, has transformed itself in recent years — undergoing a restoration and expansion that have made it a lively community hub. The center, which offers classes to preschoolers, teenagers and adults, drew some 35,000 visitors last year.

Its current exhibitions range from an annual photography competition, to works by Native American artists exploring humor, to paintings by a local artist, Luke Gorder. Later this year it will present “Blake Little: Photographs From the Gay Rodeo” and “Black Hills Bounty,” which showcases work by local folk artists.

The folk art show is entirely funded with state and national arts money, said Pepper Massey, executive director of the Rapid City Arts Council, which received $27,847 from the state arts council last year.

“If that funding goes away, that might not have happened,” she said.


Dick Termes with his painted artworks at the Termesphere Gallery in Spearfish. Credit Kristina Barker for The New York Times

The Termesphere Gallery

One of the nation’s more unusual art spaces can be found off a dirt road in Spearfish, in a geodesic dome festooned with fantastical globes that their creator, the artist Dick Termes, has dubbed “Termespheres.” They are essentially three-dimensional Escher-esque paintings on spheres, created with a technique he calls “six-point perspective.”

“It’s really our salvation out here,” Mr. Termes, 75, said of the state grants, which have allowed him to remain in his home state and make a living as an artist. “Without it, I think we would have had to move.”

His extensive work in the schools has made him a well-known figure here, and he recently made a 20-part online video series on drawing for South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

His wife, Markie Scholz, who said that her state-supported puppet troupe had made it to all but 10 of South Dakota’s towns, said that the pushback the state encountered when it considered eliminating the arts council was inspiring.

“We’re a very conservative state, and a very poor state, but they see the value of it,” she said. “The uproar was insane — just incredible.”

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