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For the Lakota, Creativity Thrives Where There’s No Word for Art

January 11, 2024

Reported from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, from Rapid City and at sites throughout the Black Hills. Published Jan. 9, 2024. Updated Jan. 11, 2024

There is no word for art in the Lakota language. But the power of art, in every facet of life, has drawn a boisterous group of moccasin beaders, painters, regalia artists and producers of Native hip-hop down a two-lane road that undulates through the tawny hills of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, eight miles from the nearest intersection.

The setting is the new Oglala Lakota Artspace, a Native-run studio space that’s the first of its kind on the Pine Ridge reservation, and since its debut last May, it has liberated scores of artists from their kitchen tables. It’s a place where mothers hover over sewing machines fashioning ribbon skirts for their daughters to wear at powwows, while young hip-hop artists in requisite black T-shirts record music videos and mixtapes under the tutelage of a 30-year-old rapper and producer.

Helene Gaddie, the instructor for the Warrior Women Sewing Circle, is one of five Artspace artists-in-residence; she’s also co-founder of an organization bringing science, math and cultural education to Lakota youth. “There are a lot of statistics about our community,” she observed. “This place is a beacon of hope, a safe, welcoming space where community members excel.”

Artspace Projects, Inc. is a grantee partner with Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. In 2013 Artspace joined with First Peoples Fund and Lakota Funds, a Native Community Development Financial Institution on the Pine Ridge Reservation to form the LLC partnership. The Oglala Lakota Artspace is the product of this partnership. Read the full story on The New York Times. Subscription required.