This year will be an important one for the Cheyenne River Youth Project, as it continues to develop the curriculum at its Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Institute. Thanks to a $125,000, two-year grant from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, the nonprofit youth organization will be adding additional programming in the areas of fine art, contemporary art and design, and traditional Lakota arts and culture.
Waniyetu Wowapi’s robust, multidisciplinary curriculum will give Cheyenne River’s young people access to an impressive array of opportunities. Through the innovative Teen Internship Program, 13- to 18-year-olds at CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center will learn critical job and life skills while exploring their passions, sharing their stories, and finding their own unique voices along the way.
“Waniyetu Wowapi is the first and only dedicated art space for youth here on the Cheyenne River reservation,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Having that space is so important, because art is an integral piece of who we are as Lakota people. It’s how we communicate, tell our stories and practice our culture. Waniyetu Wowapi isn’t just about exposing young people to art—it’s an investment in the revitalization of our Lakota culture.
“When we first began offering dedicated arts programming four years ago,” she continued, “the kids could take classes in drawing and introductory coursework in graffiti and street art. Now, thanks to this grant, we’re able to bring in local and visiting instructors who are experts in many other disciplines and mediums.”
These days, Waniyetu Wowapi art interns have the opportunity to learn contemporary arts such as fashion design and digital media. They also can strengthen their connection to Lakota culture through traditional arts, including hide tanning, ledger painting, beading, quillwork, pottery making, tipi painting and even indigenous cooking.
“The John T. Vucurevich Foundation’s support has allowed us to expand what we’re able to offer, and it gives us the ability to experiment with short-term pilot programs, such as our indigenous cooking classes,” Garreau said. “Access to the arts was something our kids specifically requested when we were developing Cokata Wiconi more than a decade ago; to see that vision become a reality, and to see how it’s resonating with our kids, is simply overwhelming.”
In the months and years to come, CRYP will add additional traditional and contemporary arts classes, including those that focus on performance, such as music, dance and the spoken word. The organization also is dedicated to cultivating and nurturing emerging artists, building the partnerships necessary to support Waniyetu Wowapi alumni as they become professional artists; further developing CRYP’s growing network of mentors, guest instructors and artists in residence; and continuing to raise awareness in the Cheyenne River community about the role the arts play in holistic wellness and healing.
Waniyetu Wowapi also will continue to host the annual RedCan invitational graffiti jam, scheduled for June 28-30 this summer. Once again, visiting artists will join local artists, art interns and community members of all ages at select mural sites throughout the city of Eagle Butte, as well as in the free, public Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park at the CRYP campus.
“During the summer and early fall months, the art park will host eight native performance artists,” Garreau noted. “We’re also working on establishing a public art gallery that will feature our young people’s work. This is an exciting, transformative time for us, and for the entire community. We’re deeply grateful to the John T. Vucurevich Foundation for making this possible.”
The John T. Vucurevich Foundation honors and builds on the personal legacy of giving of John T. Vucurevich by facilitating solutions to key challenges facing South Dakota and the Black Hills Region in the areas of health and human services, education and the arts. JTVF provides funding and human resources to make a greater impact on the community through a collaborative approach that creates a sense of shared responsibility among partners and promotes long-term sustainable change.
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.