PINE RIDGE -- The Heritage Center here is filled to overflowing with more than 10,000 pieces of Native American artwork and artifacts housed in a historic brick building at the Red Cloud Indian School on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

So it is fitting that a $100,000 planning grant that the art museum recently received to transform its cramped quarters into an exemplary art space is called the Space for Change Planning and Pre-Development Grant.

The award is part of a $1 million collaboration between the Ford Foundation and Leveraging Investments in Creativity, often referred to as LINC. The small art museum just outside Pine Ridge was one of a dozen grant recipients that were awarded between $50,000 and $100,000 each to help plan new art facilities. It competed against nearly 700 applicants from 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Peter Strong, director of the Heritage Center, said its extensive collection is the result of a lifetime of work by the art museum's former curator, the late Brother Simon. This summer, the Heritage Center will host its 44th annual Red Cloud Indian Art Show, the source of many of its contemporary artwork. Last year's show included 93 artists, but display space severely limits the amount of work that can be accepted.

Simon, who died in 2006, is remembered as an amazing collector with a discriminating eye for new talent, but not for his attention to documentation or cataloguing, Strong said.

"Brother Simon always said ‘Oh, we've got about 2,000 things,'" he said. "We knew those numbers were a little bit off."

They were off by more than 8,000 pieces of Lakota history and art, as it turns out.

The school's vast collection of Native American art is unmatched in breadth, stature and quality, a LINC official said. It contains traditional work, ranging from moccasins and pottery to beadwork and textiles. A remarkable example is the feather-adorned union high hat of Chief Red Cloud, the renowned 19th century Lakota warrior and statesman for whom the mission and school are named. There are also 9,000 contemporary pieces featuring early works of now well-established artists. Creating a physical location suitable to archive these cultural treasures is a critical priority, LINC decided.

The grant was spurred by a comprehensive museum inventory completed more than a year ago. The $100,000 will be used in a two-year planning process, Strong said. By paying for consultants, surveys and some operating costs, it will allow the Heritage Center to answer questions about its future as an artistic, educational and cultural resource on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Strong plans to reach out to all the communities that the Heritage Center serves - on the reservation and the wider art world -- through surveys and information-gathering sessions.

"We'll invite people in to give us candid feedback ... involving all our stakeholders and getting quality feedback and making sure the community -- the reservation, regional, national and international -- is involved in whatever we do," he said.

Whether the solution to the center's space problems is an entirely new facility built on the Red Cloud campus or using the art museum's location in some way as a tribute to the school's long history on the Pine Ridge reservation remains to be seen, Strong said. He said the feasibility of expanded studio space for area artists is among the things that will be considered. "At the end of the project, we'll have a very clear path as to what the Heritage Center is, what more it can be."

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The evaluation of the building will address operating system upgrades, expanding and creating artists work and performance spaces, and specific climate/environmental controls to better protect and display its irreplaceable artifacts, an incalculable loss to our nation's heritage if not properly preserved, said Judilee Reed, executive director of LINC.

"Predevelopment funds are critical to a successful planning process, but arts organizations are too often deemed ‘high risk' by conventional lending institutions and are unable to access these much needed resources," Reed said. "The Space for Change program is designed to help our grantees plan methodically and create more than buildings or architectural objects, but genuinely dynamic engines of culture and change."

In addition to answering questions about its physical facility, the planning grant will develop a five- to 10-year programming vision. There are many interesting and innovative ways that Native American cultural institutions worldwide are sharing their collections that the Heritage Center might duplicate, Strong said, and he wants to find ways to use it to expand interaction with local and regional school groups

"We have this amazing collection," he said.

"Red Cloud is doing some amazing work ... and this fits into fostering the education of everyone through the arts," he said. "It's really time for us to reach out to the community. We can do more things and do them in a community way."

Contact Mary Garrigan at 3948424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com

 

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