The Cheyenne River Youth Project is proud to introduce its second cohort of Lakota Art Fellows: Julia Lesmeister, 15; Sierra Maynard, 15; and Courtney Silk, 14. All three teens attend Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School. 

CRYP created the Lakota Art Fellowship in 2019 so it could provide opportunities for teens on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation who have an interest in pursuing careers in the arts, and who have completed multiple internships through the nonprofit youth project’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Institute & Art Park.

After taking a year off due to the Covid pandemic, CRYP relaunched the innovative nine-month program last fall. With the help of art instructors and mentors in the Lakota Nation and across the country, the three teens are developing their skills in a variety of disciplines, including graffiti art, digital arts, traditional arts, stenciling, graphic arts, and screen printing. In addition, they are learning about the business side of art, with classes that include public speaking, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and merchandising. 

“They also have opportunities to explore the impact of public art, and discover how art can foster healing in communities,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP programs director. “Those opportunities involve virtual and real-life explorations of art institutions and public art in other communities. Through these experiences, our Lakota Art Fellows learn how their youth leadership can help make a difference in our own communities here on Cheyenne River.” 

Julia Lesmeister has enjoyed producing art off and on for about three years. While she prefers painting, she’s learned that she also appreciates graffiti art.

“Art makes me feel calm,” she said. “And, it’s something for me to do when I’m bored.” 

Sierra Maynard started producing art when she was little. Primarily self-taught, she seeks to learn new techniques, and she appreciates the outlet that art provides.

“I like art because it helps me express myself and my thoughts and feelings,” she explained. “It feels like an escape from reality, and it gives me a chance to feel free for awhile. I’m very happy to have this opportunity.” 

Courtney Shields also has been doing art for quite a few years. Now, she said, she’s eager to practice and improve her skills.

“I prefer graffiti, but I also love drawing,” she said. “Art makes me feel both excited and calm. It helps with my anxiety.” 

In April, the Lakota Art Fellows will be learning screen printing and wood block printing with Montana-based artists Louis and Gina Still Smoking, and how to make homemade toothpaste and deodorant with Dawn LeBeau, a Cheyenne River Lakota artist. They also will have an opportunity to create self-portraits in acrylics with Seattle-based 179, a Latine artist who is a featured guest at CRYP’s award-winning RedCan invitational graffiti jam. 

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

The Cheyenne River Youth Project is dedicated to giving our Lakota youth and families access to the culturally relevant, enriching, and enduring opportunities we need to build stronger, healthier communities and a more vibrant future together.