The 7th annual Red Can Graffiti Jam took place July 7-10 in Eagle Butte, sponsored by the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP).
Massive Mural of Mitákuye Oyášiŋ
The heart of the four-day celebration was the creation of a massive mural on one of the old IHS apartment buildings as one enters Eagle Butte. This year, for the first time, the RedCan Jam focused on the creation of one large installation, rather than several small ones.
The center of the mural is the words “Mitákuye Oyášiŋ” flanked on either side by the cheerful mischievous iconic buffalo of artist Wundr. According to CRYP Executive Director Julie Garreau, the purpose of the mural is simply to remind us that “We are all related.”
The new mural image in Eagle Butte welcomes people into town, showing the vibrant life and artistic expression of the community. It turns the unused resource of an empty apartment building into a source of joy and goodwill, calling into question preconceived prejudices about what is useful or beautiful and what is not.
CRYP and the artists understand the essential ephemeral nature of public art, especially graffiti. The site of the installation reflects the reality that the expression of a community can be transitory and at the same time, the values of that community endure.
Because the artwork is on an abandoned building and subject to the wear and tear of weather, it shows the effects of time on artwork, and by extension the effects of time on a community.
According to Garreau, the artwork is a gift to the community. She suggests some challenging questions about the nature of public art:
What if this simple art mural project lifted the hearts of a few?
Or created some enthusiasm in our community?
Possibly brought joy to someone’s heart?
The Graffiti Art movement
The contemporary graffiti art movement began over half a century ago. The Cheyenne River Youth Project brought some exemplary examples of modern graffiti art to Cheyenne River this year.
This year’s RedCan artists included East, Scribe, Wundr, Ryoe, Biafra Inc., 179, Lawst, Cyfi, Tsel, Hoka, Lucid, and Therd.
Luminaries of the graffiti art form came from Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle, Tucson, Chicago, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, and further afield to present the best of their artistry.
The artists represented a wide variety of Indigenous traditions and cultures; including Anishinaabe, Constance Lake Oji-Cree, Illiana, Potawatomi, Menominee, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Mexican-American, Aztec, Oneida, Oglala Lakota, La Jolla Band of Luiseño.
In order to advance the art form, the artists studied mythology, iconography and parables. They mastered print making and screen printing, color theory, lettering, cartoons, comics, animation and toy-making.
Taken cumulatively, the work of the assembled artists calls viewers and participants to examine the role of public art in urban life, to question the criminalization of immigrants and indigenous populations, to appreciate traditional native art as well as fine art and even punk art. Artist Biafra, Inc. even likes to takes a critical look at “white” or European culture.
Art Park Groundbreaking
On Friday, CRYP broke ground on the new Waniyetu Wowapi “Winter Count” Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Institute Youth Arts Center.
The facility will house the CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Institute. The program long since outgrew the single art studio of the current Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center.
“This is a truly transformational moment in our history,” said Garreau in a press release announcing the new building. “It’s our next great leap forward. We cannot wait to give our young people their own dedicated facilities for traditional and contemporary art, music, performance art, and more.”
“We have a profound need for a full youth arts center here on Cheyenne River,” she continued. “Art is a fundamental part of who we are as Lakota people, and it’s a powerful tool for healing, reconciliation, health, and wellness. We’ve known for a few years that we would have to grow to be able to give our kids the opportunities they’re asking for and so richly deserve.
The new building will incorporate circular exhibition spaces, a photography dark room, recording studio, screen-printing studio, pottery studio with kiln room, multipurpose space with doors opening to the outside, and individual artists’ studios. What’s more, it’s exterior walls will constantly be changing.
After the groundbreaking, events on Friday continued with Lakota exhibition dancers in the art park, followed by hoop-dancing lessons for the youth with the acclaimed Sampson Brothers. Friday ended with a community dinner sponsored by University of Missouri St Louis.
The RedCan Graffiti Jam began on Wednesday with a Lakota drum song and blessing at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center. From there, the artists headed for the abandoned downtown apartment complex on Eagle Butte’s Main Street to create their vibrant large-scale murals, and CRYP staff and volunteers geared up for a day of youth activities.
At 11 a.m., volunteers opened a creative “Pollination Station” outside 7th Generation Cinema on Main Street, adjacent to the mural site. There, 4- to 12-year-olds built and painted their own bee houses; at 2 p.m., they returned to create bee baths. Meanwhile, teens had an opportunity to do their own spray chalk painting in CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Park.
At 2 p.m., staff and volunteers taught the younger children to make Play-Doh in the art park while older youth painted skateboards, and activities wrapped up later that afternoon with “Sports Field Day” activities at 4 p.m. Volunteer groups from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Ohio’s Ursuline College made all of this possible.
On Thursday four- to 12-year-olds had an opportunity to make washer necklaces and washer wind chimes at the 7th Generation Cinema. In the afternoon, these younger children converged on the art park to create “moon sand” while the 100 Horse Society assisted with raising tipis in the park.
Teens congregated in the Cokata Wiconi (teen center) at 2 p.m. for a virtual acrylic muralism workshop. First Peoples’ Fund’s Rolling Rez Arts provided virtual instruction for the workshop via Zoom. Later, Day 2 of RedCan 2021 concluded with a “Relay Field Day” for 4- to 12-year-olds at 4 p.m. in the art park, and a closing drum song and blessing under the Cokata Wiconi canopy at 5:30 p.m.
The events wrapped up on Saturday with a public performance by the Samson Brothers on the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park stage at 6 p.m.