Rocco Landesman, chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, speaks at the Dahl Arts Center on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Landesman was part of a Panel discussion on Creative Placemaking in the Black Hills Region. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

On his way out of South Dakota after visiting Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts stopped Thursday in Rapid City with a message: Art is the product of its place.

“This is probably the best example of that that I’ve seen anywhere in the country,” said Rocco Landesman, who is finishing a three-state tour to visit organizations with grant money from the endowment. “You visit the Heritage Center and see Native American art produced by the people in those tribes, the Lakota people right there. It’s so obvious that it’s tied to that place; that this couldn’t happen in Malibu or New York City.”

Landesman visited the Heritage Center on Wednesday. At the center on Pine Ridge Reservation, director Peter Strong and others buy and sell Lakota art and are working to expand their Native American art sales. The center will use a $110,000 grant from ArtPlace, affiliated with the National Endowment for the Arts, to improve their website and buy more Lakota art to sell.  

Landesman also hopes his visit spurs more South Dakotans’ interest in the National Endowment for the Arts. The most recent grants were announced Thursday when the National Endowment for the Arts awarded 863 of them worth $22.5 million to organizations and people in 47 states.

South Dakota is one of three states not on the list, along with North Dakota and Nevada.

“We’d like to be here as a stronger presence. We don’t get enough applications from South Dakota,” Landesman said. “Hey, I’m here, we’ve got money, apply to us.”

Nearly 100 people showed up to a panel discussion on “Creative Placemaking in the Black Hills Region” where representatives from Oglala Lakota College’s art department, the Hill City Arts Council and Black Hills Bronze foundry and the Dahl Arts Center discussed ways they are encouraging artists.

Gerald Cournoyer, an art professor at Oglala Lakota College, said the college wants to start an artist’s consortium in a converted art building on campus, where professors will teach ceramics, photography, graphic design and other art forms. He is looking for funding.

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Studies show that introducing art in communities like Hill City, which has seven art galleries although the population is under 1,000, changes the economics and people who live there, Landesman said. 

“This is the real work, I think of the NEA, to get out there, to get around and to engage art where it’s happening and to promote that,” Landesman said. “When you bring art and artists into a place it changes that place. It changes that community.”

Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or ruth.moon@rapidcityjournal.com.

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