The Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Spring Performing Art Series came to a close on May 25, when it welcomed Prolific the Rapper, Gunner Jules and Let It Bee and a crowd of nearly 150 people to its free, public Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Park for a special community concert. A total of nearly 600 people attended CRYP’s outdoor performing arts events throughout the April and May series.

The holiday weekend performance was held in conjunction with CRYP’s annual Midnight Basketball summer kickoff, which attracted 70 teens for an evening of sports, friends and fun. The youth project also hosted an honoring for 2018 high school graduates, and an informal Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) welcoming for the 13-year-olds who are now able to participate in the teen center’s programming for the first time.

“The energy was so upbeat, and we were fortunate to have perfect weather for an outdoor concert,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director. “We received a lot of thank-yous, but some comments really stood out to me. One young person said, ‘Me and my friends hardly go out, because their isn’t stuff to do for people our age (mid-20s), so it’s cool that y’all have more community events now.’ And another said he’d been following a couple of the performers for awhile, but seeing them here inspired and motivated him. He said they made him feel ‘like I can do good things again.’”

It wasn’t just the youth. The event attracted community members of all ages, and Widow said she had parents and elders approach her with their feedback.

“‘A mother said, ‘Thanks for giving me another reason to come visit my family (on Cheyenne River),’” she recalled. “And an elder told me, ‘I wish I’d come to the other gatherings; it’s beautiful out here.’”

The family-friendly Spring Performing Art Series, made possible with funding from NEA Art Works, included a variety of live music performances, a youth wacipi, movies on the new outdoor screen, and more. More than 120 people attended a special Ina’s Day comedy show in May, which featured Mylo Smith Jr. and Tito Ybarra; attendees reported it was the best Mother’s Day they’d had in years.

According to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, the Waniyetu Wowapi Performing Art Series helps fulfill a vision she and her staff first developed years ago.

“We’ve always wanted Cokata Wiconi and Waniyetu Wowapi to be meaningful, welcoming gathering places for our community, “ she said. “Now, we’re seeing that dream become reality; we’ve been overwhelmed and honored by our community’s response to the Performing Art Series.

“Nearly 600 people came to our events this spring, and we’re thrilled to witness our friends and neighbors discovering what we already knew — that the art park is a beautiful place to relax outside, enjoy our guest performers as well as the visual artwork, make memories together, and lift each other up,” she continued. “We’re so grateful to NEA ArtWorks for giving us the support we needed to make this happen.”

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.