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If, as it’s said, the drum is the heart of a Native American nation, perhaps the art of its people is a Native American nation’s soul.

So it was under a bristling summer sun that dozens of Native artists – from painters, to bead workers, to jewelers, to musicians – gathered in downtown Rapid City to share their souls with all who cared to stop, look, listen, touch and take away a piece of another’s culture in their hands, within their cameras or sealed in their memory.

I’m referring, of course, to “A Gathering of People, Wind and Water” at Rapid City’s Main Street Square. This year marked the second Native American art market and cultural celebration designed to use the Passage of Wind and Water sculpture project as an inspiration for cross-cultural awareness and appreciation.

Holding the event in and around the art of Masayuki Nagase seemed a natural, given the similarities between the Lakota culture and the sculptor’s Japanese roots. Moreover, one of Yuki’s goals in creating his work, in what is increasingly becoming the heart of Rapid City, is to offer an environment where people of all races and cultures can gather to share their stories.

I readily admit to being a reluctant supporter of those plans to pave an old parking lot and put up what many hoped would be a piece of cultural paradise in a community sorely in need of a common ground for all people.

My initial reaction was “they’re trying to squeeze a piece of big city-look, 21st-century architecture on to a very small corner in the historic section of a town that film director Jon Turteltaub feels could make a mint selling itself to Hollywood as the prototype of the 1950s Midwest.”

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And a part of me still feels like Main Street Square is built a bit too large for its surroundings, kind of like placing an oversized rate stamp on the upper right-hand corner of that souvenir photo you’re mailing -- more postage than post.

But, to a large extent, that’s because every time I see those massive grey stones, towering columns and playful fountains I’m momentarily transported back to midtown Manhattan on a quiet Sunday afternoon when the crowds are gone, the traffic is light (it does happen) and you can actually appreciate that there’s a living organism beneath all the concrete and the chaos. One can fairly easily find the heart of Manhattan -- just as many are beginning to find the heart of Rapid City.

A while back I was told a story about a Spanish exchange student studying in the area back in 1980 who was seen several times wandering through downtown Rapid. When asked if she needed help, the young woman – raised on a continent where all cities were built around a plaza of some sort – replied that she was looking for the heart of Rapid City … but couldn’t find it.

That young woman might be pleased to know that Rapid City is finally growing a heart – with every event that’s held at “The Square.”

Jim Kent lives in Hot Springs. Write to The opinions expressed by this freelance columnist are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rapid City Journal.

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