This summer, nationally acclaimed graffiti artists from around the country will converge on South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation for what will be a first in Indian country: a graffiti jam. Called RedCan, the two-day event is scheduled to take place on July 8-9 at the Cheyenne River Youth Project®’s Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Art Park in Eagle Butte, and on July 11 at Art Alley in Rapid City.
Featured artists, who will be painting alongside local artists and community members, include: East Foster, from Denver; Peyton Scott Russell, from Minneapolis (see photo); Tyler “Siamese” Read, from Rapid City; and many more. Also on hand will be a variety of hip-hop groups, native drum groups and native dancers, ensuring that RedCan will be a high-energy merging of graffiti culture and Lakota culture.
“I find this jam unique because it’s a tour of two cities, promoting two artistic venues that support graffiti art — Waniyetu Wowapi and Art Alley,” Peyton said. “All the artists will travel together, like a field trip. We’ll collaborate, share, show off, and jam together over three days in two cities. I can’t think of any jam or festival that has this kind of setup.”
For those who might not be familiar with graffiti jams, Peyton explained that they are designed to introduce graffiti as an art form, bringing in people who exemplify what that is. Featured artists show off different techniques and styles, giving attendees an opportunity to get an inside look at the contemporary graffiti movement and how it has evolved in the last 50 years.
“When you bring in accomplished graffiti artists, you’re showcasing a global movement,” Peyton said. “You see its importance, how to be part of it, and how to infuse it with your own culture. That can really put a town on the map, because when graffiti goes somewhere, the world pays attention.”
And that will mean good things for Cheyenne River, said Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director. “Not only does an event like this enhance our community pride, event-related tourism will provide an appreciated economic boost for our local businesses and artists. We’re deeply grateful to East, Siamese, Peyton and the rest of the participants for their commitment and their willingness to help bring RedCan to life.
Peyton has been devoted to graffiti art since he was first introduced to it as a high school student. After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1991, Peyton became a professional artist and art instructor, founding organizations such as House of Daskarone, Juxtaposition Arts, and Art House Education. Today he is a Bush Fellow, and he has founded a new arts project called SPRAYFINGER, which is dedicated to increasing awareness of graffiti as an educational curriculum to be taught in schools.
East also hails from the Midwest. He attended the Chicago Academy for the Arts before embarking on his graffiti art career 32 years ago; today, he owns and operates the Cypher Shop, Denver’s premium art supply boutique, and he continues to pursue his passion for letters and lettering styles. He noted that graffiti jams generate a tremendous amount of energy and excitement due to the underground nature of the graffiti movement.
“The idea behind a graffiti jam is to share knowledge and skills, and pass them on,” East explained. “A lot of things that happen in graffiti art are not in the public eye, so they’re not easy to access. With jams, you know you can see the artists in person, watch them work, and ask questions. That can be life-changing.”
“It’s an opportunity for styles to converge,” agreed Siamese, “where artists congregate for days of creating amazing art together.”
He noted that it’s also an opportunity for the public to witness and appreciate what has been created.
“When you create a piece of work on a wall,” he explained, “you put your heart into that piece of work like a painter puts into a canvas, but there are no art receptions for these street pieces. A jam is like an art reception for those works that remain on the walls and out of the galleries.”
Siamese has been active in graffiti culture since 1992. He’s active in Rapid City’s Art Alley and works as the arts education engagement coordinator for the Rapid City Arts Council. Not only does he develop creative programming for teens, young adults and at-risk youth, he connects them with creative projects that help them realize their talent, make a difference in their community and become leaders.
“What’s special about RedCan is that it’s rooted in the idea of community service and a strong culture beyond the graffiti culture,” Siamese added. “Two cultures are coming together in a powerful way, which makes it unique.”
All three artists commented that they were looking forward to RedCan’s first year.
“I don’t have any preconceived notions or expectations,” East said. “I just want to learn something, teach something, and have some fun. I’m curious to see what people in the community will be drawn to, and how they will receive me.”
“We’re excited to create art, and create it while experiencing this place and this culture,” Siamese noted.
Peyton, who has led workshops with CRYP youth at the Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center, observed that featured artists will be blown away by the sheer amount of energy in this rural high-prairie community.
“It’s just magical,” he said. “What I’ve experienced in Eagle Butte is far more extreme than anywhere else I’ve ever been. This art form really makes an impact here. It speaks to the individual; it’s about finding your identity and a sense of freedom through images, styles and developing a persona. You’re letting people know you’re here, you’re worthy, and you have something to say.”
Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, says RedCan will do even more than expose Cheyenne River youth, and the larger community, to what has become the largest art movement in the history of man. It will bring together generations and cultures.
“When we dedicated Waniyetu Wowapi last September, it was with the idea that this free public art park would be a gathering place for community members and visitors,” she said. “It’s a positive space for healthy self-expression, for telling stories, for reconciliation, and for healing.”
Peyton perhaps said it best when he noted, “No matter what the barriers are, we communicate through our art.”
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.