It’s been a thrilling month for the Cheyenne River Youth Project. Not only did the 26-year-old, not-for-profit, grassroots youth organization host the groundbreaking RedCan graffiti jam and graduate its first cohort of teen art interns, it earned a $100,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
According to NEA Chairman Jane Chu, CRYP was one of 275 applicants for this year’s Our Town awards, and it’s one of 69 award recipients nationwide. The grant program is designed to support creative place-making projects that help transform communities into lively, beautiful and resilient places — with the arts at their core.
It’s a perfect fit for CRYP. In just one year, the innovative youth project has launched an ongoing teen arts internship program; dedicated its 3.5-acre Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Art Park, which is open free to the public; and created the nationally recognized RedCan graffiti jam, in which acclaimed artists from around the country converged on South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation for an unprecedented merging of graffiti culture and Lakota culture.
“CRYP demonstrates the best in creative community development, and (its) work will have a valuable impact on its community,” Chairman Chu said. “Through Our Town funding, arts organizations continue to spark vitality that support neighborhoods and public spaces, enhancing a sense of place for residents and visitors alike.”
RedCan took place on July 8-9 in Eagle Butte and on July 11 in Rapid City’s Art Alley. Participating artists included East Foster from Denver, Kazilla from Miami (pictured above; photo courtesy of Richard Steinberger photography), Meme from California, Siamese from Rapid City, and Daesk, Biafra Inc. and Wundr from Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The artists painted at various sites around the community as well as in the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, working alongside native and youth artists and eliciting powerful support from community members.
“It’s difficult to describe, the magic that happened on Cheyenne River earlier this month,” Garreau said. “I’m still stunned by it, from the boundless creative energy to the spirit of camaraderie and fellowship among so many different people from different walks of life. Beautiful work was created, yes, but more importantly, RedCan inspired and lifted up an entire community. It was extraordinary, and it was the most powerful demonstration of the healing power of art that I’ve ever seen.”
The working artists reported tremendous interest among passers-by, many of whom picked up a can to try their own hand at creating graffiti and street art. At the youth painting area in Waniyetu Wowapi, CRYP volunteers ran out of paint before lunchtime.
“Art resonates deeply with our young people,” Garreau said. “Not only does it give them a healthy outlet for creative expression and a positive means to explore and develop their own unique identities, it gives them much-needed opportunities to share their life experiences. Graffiti and street art are, at heart, about storytelling — and storytelling is a big part of who we are as Lakota people.”
When RedCan kicked off on the morning of July 8, CRYP publicly honored the seven teens who successfully completed its first comprehensive, four-month arts internship program. During their internships, the teens developed skills in a variety of artistic disciplines, including traditional art, graffiti art, and street art. They also engaged in leadership development workshops, explored the many available career opportunities for artists, and participated in training opportunities as well as open studio time.
Each intern earned $500 for 80 hours of instruction during February, March, April and May. At the honoring ceremony, each intern also received a certificate of completion and two color-techniques workbooks. The books were donated by their creator, Scape Martinez, an accomplished contemporary urban artist and writer who has been involved in graffiti art since the 1980s.
“The internship program is a natural extension of our ongoing arts initiatives,” Garreau said. “Not only have our interns been able to receive firsthand instruction from accomplished local and national artists, they’ve played critical roles in developing the art park. We’re so proud of what they have accomplished, and it was our privilege to honor them during RedCan.”
CRYP is now preparing to open the application process for its second cohort of teen art interns. It’s also actively pursuing expansion of its arts curriculum and the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, and it’s in the preliminary stages of planning RedCan for 2016.
Garreau said the NEA Our Town grant is critical on all counts.
“Young people on Cheyenne River have to grow up much faster than their counterparts elsewhere in America, and they suffer tremendous amounts of stress due to the social ills that accompany poverty,” she explained. “We know that art can, and does, change lives for the better. That’s why it’s so important to continue expanding our art park, our internships and our ongoing arts programming at the Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center. In the end, it’s about helping our children heal so they can grow and thrive.”
For a complete listing of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, visit the NEA web site at arts.gov. The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects, along with lessons learned and other resources.
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.