Cheyenne River Youth Project

Coming in 2017: The Waniyetu Wowapi Lakota Arts Institute

The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s eagerly anticipated Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Arts Institute will fully take shape in the new year, thanks to just-announced funding from ArtPlace America’s 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund. The nonprofit, grassroots youth organization is one of just 29 projects chosen, from a field of nearly 1,400 applicants.

ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund is a highly competitive national program —funding 2 percent of initial applications—that invests money in communities across the country in which artists, arts organizations, and arts and culture activity will help drive community development change in the sectors of agriculture and food; economic development; education and youth; environment and energy; health, housing; immigration; public safety; transportation; or workforce development.

“Creative Placemaking seeks the full and robust integration of arts, culture, and community-engaged design into the decisions that define the ebb and flow of community life. These grant recipients embody what this looks like at its most effective best,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation and chair of the ArtPlace President’s Council. “The sheer volume of applications for these grants suggests the growing updraft of creative placemaking efforts throughout the nation.”

“We are absolutely thrilled to be adding this dynamic set of projects to our portfolio this year,” said F. Javier Torres, director of national grantmaking. “The thoughtful and innovative strategies in this year’s projects are truly indicative of the vital role that artists and arts and culture organizations play in strengthening local policy, and the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities.”

Throughout its 28-year history, CRYP has provided children on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation with access to culturally relevant arts programming. Executive Director Julie Garreau has overseen the evolution of that programming from the very beginning.

“Art has always been integral to Lakota people,” she said. “Traditionally, to preserve our history, we relied upon paintings and drawings placed on walls, buffalo robes or tipis. Our art also could be seen in our ceremonial regalia. Although we still paint on tipis and create beautiful ceremonial regalia, we also continue to celebrate our culture through art on canvas, in jewelry and clothing, and on the sides of buildings.

“For indigenous peoples, art and culture are inseparable,” she continued. “Nor is art is an individual pursuit; rather, it taps into something more meaningful within our indigenous communities. For that reason, CRYP has been dedicated to strengthening our young people’s connection to their Lakota culture, understanding that this connection provides the healing and reconciliation our native communities need to move forward.”

CRYP is now poised to make a great leap forward with the development of the Waniyetu Wowapi Lakota Arts Institute. Thanks to ArtPlace America, the youth project will be able to build LAI’s foundation, starting with hiring a full-time artistic director, creating a phased development plan for utilizing all of the campus’s existing art spaces, and enhancing the teen arts internship program, which guarantees 80 hours’ worth of arts and leadership training as well as valuable life and job skills.

As it grows and develops, LAI will incorporate traditional Lakota arts, fine art, and graffiti and street art. Garreau’s long-term vision also includes music and movement, commercial arts, and peer mentorships.

“LAI will give us an opportunity to expand, deepen and formalize our arts programming, ensuring that it is richer and even more culturally based,” Garreau said. “It will allow us to create spaces, literally and figuratively, that give our young people a safe place to explore their identities and share their stories, just as Lakota people have done for generations.

“We have this tremendous opportunity to do what’s right for our kids and our community,” she added. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

Eventually, CRYP will provide approximately 1,700 children, 400 families and hundreds of community members with access to more than 100 arts classes each year, four annual community-focused arts events, a performing arts series in the public Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, and an art gallery featuring rotating exhibitions. Garreau also plans to add a native artist to the CRYP Board of Directors to provide expert guidance, and develop a robust artist-in-residence program.

“Through the arts, we’re transforming our Cheyenne River community,” Garreau said. “We understand that, which is why we give this our all. It’s about so much more than art, because life is art. We must give our young people as many opportunities as possible to explore their authentic identities and share their truths, from their own deeply personal struggles to the Lakota Nation’s experiences with conflict. That’s the only way, in my experience, to give them the vibrant, more secure future they so richly deserve.”

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@waniyetuwowapi).

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.

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