The Cheyenne River Youth Project® has officially launched the inaugural art internship program at the Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center in Eagle Butte. This comprehensive, innovative program will provide 10 Cheyenne River teens with the opportunity to build their skills in a variety of artistic disciplines, including traditional art, graffiti art, and street art.

This spring’s art interns are John Chavez, 17, Justin Cook-Twite, 17, Jacine Carter, 16, Fentress Cromwell, 16, Tylaina Dupris, 14, Jaymalee Turning Heart, 14, Kellyn Circle Eagle, 14, Sappire Lucero, 13, Miranda Vines, 13, and Xandria Norris, 13. During the four-month program, the teens will participate in training opportunities, engage in open studio time, attend leadership development workshops, explore career opportunities for artists, plan community events to promote CRYP’s new Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Art Park, and unveil their own work within that public space when it’s ready.

The art interns must complete 80 hours of instruction during February, March, April and May to complete the program. Upon successful completion in May, they’ll each receive a $500 award for their time and commitment.

“This cohort is the first of more to come, which is extremely exciting for us,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “The art internship program is now a permanent part of our offerings here. It joins three other internship programs — wellness, social enterprise, and sustainable agriculture. In many ways, they overlap; our interns all learn about critical life and job skills such as customer service, CPR, financial literacy, marketing, and much more.”

Best of all, nationally acclaimed artists will be on hand to provide instruction and valuable guidance every step of the way. One of them is Tyler “Siamese” Read (see photo), who has been involved in graffiti culture since 1992 and a Rapid City resident since 2004. He’s active in the city’s Art Alley and works as the arts education engagement coordinator for the Rapid City Arts Council. He develops creative programming for teens, young adults and at-risk youth, connecting them with creative projects that help them realize their talent, make a difference in their community, and become leaders.

Read’s first class for the CRYP art interns is scheduled this month. Minneapolis-based artist and art instructor Peyton Scott Russell will be teaching in March. Between guest instructors, CRYP staff — all of whom have received necessary training — will be able to support and guide the interns.

Read said he’s very much looking forward to working with Cheyenne River’s teens during the new art internship program.

“The reason I think it’s so important is because of how all of this has affected me personally,” he explained. “I grew up in Seattle, and there was no legal outlet for graffiti, so I got in some trouble. Then I moved to Rapid City, and I discovered Art Alley.”

At the time, Read was working 12-hour days as a manual laborer. When he started creating art in the city’s public space, however, everything changed.

“People talked to me, in broad daylight,” he reflected. “I was one of the first two or three graffiti artists in Rapid City, so it was all sort of pioneering. I did notice a lot of misconceptions — that I must be a gang member, which I wasn’t — and that made me want to change their minds. “The alley opened the door to so many opportunities for me.

Read began mentoring young people who were using Art Alley, teaching them about the art form, creativity with existing resources, and real leadership. Under Read’s direction, the group donated the money it earned from commissions to local charities.

“That’s why I believe in what we’re doing,” he said emphatically. “Graffiti is a great equalizer, in a way I’ve never seen. It’s a great connection tool, because we’re all connected through the art form. We’re all equal; we all share this passion. And, using the resources you have, you can incorporate community involvement.

“You don’t need a degree,” he continued. “You just need some experience and a willingness to collaborate. That’s why I’m on board to help with CRYP’s internship program and the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park in any way I can. I know what Art Alley did for me.

“CRYP has put all of the tools in place to create a generation of amazing artists,” he added. “I hope and expect to look back in my later years, and when I discuss graffiti history (which I will), there will be a chapter about the great emergence of Lakota graffiti artists and the impact it had on the culture and region.”

During his class at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, Read will be teaching the interns about the history of graffiti culture from the 1960s to today, focusing on the evolution of the art form and its key players. He also will discuss, he said, the point of it all.

“We live in a consumer culture, which can leave a hole inside you,” he said. “Graffiti is about creating something, because otherwise, you’ll fill that hole with destructive things. In a way, graffiti is the anti-answer to consumerism. You’re selling yourself, your individualism. Not only is it beautiful, with its flow and shape, it’s accessible to everyone.”

Read’s class also will address street art, which is slightly different in terms of how it’s used, the shapes it takes, and the artists. And, he will incorporate the concept of community art parks as a critical tool for change.

According to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, the internship program is a natural extension of the 26-year-old, not-for-profit youth organization’s Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park initiative. Waniyetu Wowapi was formally dedicated in September 2014 and is garnering acclaim throughout the region.

“Our art park is a free public space where community members and visitors can express their own unique voices and life experiences in a positive healthy way,” Garreau said. “We’re thrilled that our first art interns will play pivotal roles in further developing the art park as they collaborate to create new murals — and create special events that make the new park a meaningful gathering place for our community.”

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.