Imagine traditional dancers and tribal drummers on 19th Street in New York’s Chelsea gallery district. Imagine a New York exhibition opening with a prayer delivered in the Dakota language. Or the President of Fort Totten’s Cankdeska Cikana Community College dressed in full regalia escorting Robert Rauschenberg’s son Christopher through an Honor Song from a community that has minimal contact with contemporary artists.
Welcome to the opening of Songs for Spirit Lake, an exhibition overrun by mythical bison, which haunt the present on North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation. They are joined by painted and photographed images of today’s inhabitants of the Spirit Lake Nation, sculptural investigations into tribal family structure, and poetic reflections on tough social issues faced by today’s Spirit Lake people.
“We must bring this exhibition home,” became the evening’s refrain and the goal of this campaign.
No contemporary art has ever been created on or about Spirit Lake, a mixed-race, multi-cultural, poverty-ridden Dakota Sioux Reservation. No artist has addressed the culture as a whole rather than Indian life in isolation. No contemporary artists have been equal collaborators with traditional Fort Totten reservation artists. Accepting the challenge, the North Dakota Museum of Art brought together six artists from a broad spectrum, including Native Americans and non-Native Americans, emerging as well as established. The artists were challenged to make art in response to life as it is actually lived today, stripping away nostalgia, racism, and history-based anger in order to consider the pleasures as well as the problems faced by our northern reservation inhabitants, be they Native Americans, Hispanics, Americans of European descent, or Mixed-bloods, also known as Mechif or Métis.
They gathered together: Rena Effendi of Baku, Azerbaijan who now lives in Cairo; Bill Harbort, a multi-media painter transplanted to Minot, North Dakota upon leaving a lucrative graphic design career in New York; and John Hitchcock, a Comanche and Northern European artist known for his work with Plains Indian myths. They were joined by North Dakota sculptor Terry Jelsing, Manitoba painter Tim Schouten, and New York video installation artist Mary Lucier who had already completed two major works about loss in North Dakota. The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation picked up the artists’ bill.
“We must bring this exhibition home.”
In Songs for Spirit Lake, the artists explore how people live within the landscape, who the people are, and their patterns of intermingling the past and present in life today through photography, painting, video and installation. Mary Lucier filmed the opening performance and transformed it into a video projection with sound that is now a work in the exhibition.
Help us bring this exhibition back to Spirit Lake. Funding will continue from the Rauschenberg Foundation for the six artists to collaborate more fully with traditional artists. The North Dakota Museum of Art and Cankdeska Cikana Community College, however, must raise the funds to open the exhibition on October 17, 2013, in the College’s new mechanical building before the snowplows, trucks, and tractors move in. It will run until snowfall drives the art out.
We must install temporary walls, lighting, and the artwork, pay shipping, artist travel, and the costs of reaching the public and making their visits enlightening.
The Museum and the College received a National Endowment for the Arts $150,000 Our Town grant to plan a center for the arts on Spirit Lake. Bringing home Songs for Spirit Lake helps us take our first steps.
Risks and challenges
The greatest risk is that we won’t find the necessary financial backing. The Tribe is in a state of turmoil and its funding for the college didn’t come through last year, and may not this. The North Dakota Museum of Art is the State Art Museum but only receives state money for its Rural Arts Initiative, merely a small amount of which can be used for this project. North Dakota, while perceived as flowing in oil money, finds almost none going to the arts. There are few foundations or corporate headquarters in the State. Supporting the arts and tribal education are two of North Dakota’s most difficult propositions. Individual support is key to bringing Songs for Spirit Lake home.
Songs for Spirit Lake is opening in conjunction with the College’s fortieth anniversary and President Cynthia Lindquist’s tenth anniversary as head of the college. Even without funds, native peoples are brilliant at creating ceremony out of almost nothing. The Museum staff is also skilled at installing art under challenging circumstances. All parties are confident that the project will be realized. Put the opening on your calendars.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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