Local traveling bus program brings economic opportunities to Native American artists

RAPID CITY, S.D. — In 2013 a study conducted by First Peoples Fund found that thirty percent of all Native peoples are practicing artists either personally or professionally. From this study and idea was created; an idea with a single purpose of providing support to emerging and practicing Native American artists.

So, how can an organization take on supporting artists and what support would be needed to create an economic impact for the community? The answer — the Rolling Rez Arts Bus. A state-of-the-art mobile art studio that serves as a business training center, wholesale buyer and mobile bank.

“The market study was part of the concept in the creation of the Rolling Rez Arts program,” said Bryan Parker, Rolling Rez Arts program manager, “Since First Peoples Fund is in the field of helping Native Artists and culture bearers, we wanted to find out how many households and people where engaged in the arts either personally or professionally.”

The program offers three services; an art studio and classroom that operates April through December, a monthly wholesale buying day in which artists can sell their work to the Red Cloud Heritage Center gift shop located in Pine Ridge, S.D. and mobile banking unit.

“The idea is that the artists are utilizing all of the bus’s services,” said Parker, “Maybe they are coming to a class and learning a new skill and then coming to the buying days to sell their work and with the check they receive they are able to utilize the banking service. The bus is really there for as a one-stop-shop for them.”

The bus travels to Wanblee, Martin, Kyle, Allen, Porcupine, Pine Ridge, Oglala and Manderson, April through December, providing artists the opportunity to learn a new skill with the classes that are offered and to sell their work with a monthly wholesale buying day. Each buying day an average of $2,418 of artwork is purchased.

This allows artists not only the opportunity to sell their work, but to receive valuable feedback from the wholesale buyer for the gift shop. Parker explained, “It is an open call for artists to bring their artwork. The gift shop manager visits with the artists about their work and decides if it is a piece they would like to sell in their shop. If it is, the Red Cloud Heritage Center will issue a check to the artists right on the spot.”

Most of the work being done in the off season, December through February, involves the mobile banking feature. This is a partnership with Lakota Federal Credit Union and brings banking to residents in Pine Ridge, S.D. biweekly, year-round.

To a community located 73 miles from the nearest bank, having regular access to checking, saving and credit services goes a long way. Every other Thursday the Rolling Rez Arts bus comes to town with a representative from Lakota Federal Credit Union and typically opens five to ten new accounts monthly, closes on two to five loans and conducts check cashing and withdrawal services between $3,000 and $8,000 per trip. Since 2016 the Rolling Rez Arts bus has traveled 33,000 miles across the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The economic impact of this program can be seen through the numbers collected and reported through First Peoples Fund but to Parker it can be best described by the artists themselves who share their stories of success with him. “I get to hear from the artists directly who tell me that they have been able to purchase a new car or get the supplies they need to produce larger pieces for major art shows,” said Parker.

To learn more about the Rolling Rez Arts program and about First Peoples Fund go to firstpeoplesfund.org/rolling-rez-arts.

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Categories: Local News, South Dakota News