PINE RIDGE, S.D. – The vehicle is impossible to miss: a big truck adorned with stylized buffalo in bright colors. It crisscrosses the Connecticut-size Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, connecting Native artists with one another while helping them ratchet up their artistic and financial skills.
Rolling Rez Arts is a joint project of three nonprofits: First Peoples Fund, a South-Dakota based grantmaker that supports Native artists nationwide; the arts-focused property developer ArtSpace; and Lakota Funds, the first Native-led financial institution for community development. Launched in late 2015, Rolling Rez is in its second season of operation.
The project was set in motion by a study, undertaken by First Peoples, ArtSpace, and other collaborators, that produced a startling discovery: on Pine Ridge, more than half of Native households are involved in home-based businesses, and a whopping 79 percent of those businesses are in the arts. At the same time, 61 percent of emerging artists have annual incomes of $10,000 or less.
In other words: Art is a vital part of Lakota culture, the vast reservation is teeming with artists, and they could use some help and support.
Rolling Rez can be configured as a classroom, an exhibition space, or a computer lab. Established Native artists like filmmaker Razelle Benally and painter Wade Patton have brought classes to far-flung corners of the reservation. Business building and financial literacy are also on the menu; the truck brings buyers from the reservation’s most important art-sales center, the gift shop at the Heritage Center gallery at Red Cloud Indian School, out to artists’ homes. Rolling Rez also contains a banking area where artists have access to Lakota Funds’ credit union.
“It provides a space, it provides access to capital, it provides these resources and it connects people in the community with mentors, with culture bearers, at the same time,” Brandie McDonald of First Peoples Fund told South Dakota Public Broadcasting. “Which is beautiful to think about.”