A Red State’s Arts Blues

Rolling Arts at Pine Ridge

With his horses foaling, Tony Richards, 63, said that he would not have had time to make the hourlong drive from his corner of the sprawling Pine Ridge Reservation to the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School to sell jewelry to its gift shop, which has emerged as an important supporter of the reservation’s Lakota artists.

But last week, the gift shop came to him — on board Rolling Rez Arts, an airport shuttle bus that has been transformed into a mobile art classroom and credit union office. “Buying Art Today,” read a whiteboard outside the bus, which was parked in the community of Martin.

Mr. Richards took a wooden jewelry case from his car and got on board. Carmen Little Iron, the gift shop’s manager, checked his tribal identification card to comply with federal laws governing the sale of native arts — his was from the Oglala Sioux — and bought several of his finely wrought bone chokers, beaded cross necklaces and earrings.

“A lot of people don’t have vehicles, so this is good that they do it this way,” said Mr. Richards, who heard on KILI, the reservation’s radio station, that the buyers were coming to his district. “I’ve got 18 horses I take care of, and right now they’re foaling, so I have colts out there I’ve got to watch, because we’ve got mountain lions and coyotes. A lot of times I didn’t have time to go over there.”

The idea for the Rolling Rez came from a recent study that found that more than half of native households on the reservation, one of the poorest parts of the nation, are engaged in a home-based business, and 79 percent of those produce some kind of art — but that most of the artists earned less than $10,000 a year and lacked cars, training and ways to meet buyers.

“So we had a conversation about doing something on wheels — with access to markets and access to supplies,” said Lori Pourier, the president of First Peoples Fund, a group that supports indigenous artists. It joined other groups to create the Rolling Rez, which received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this year. It offered more than 50 classes in art and entrepreneurship last year, mostly on Pine Ridge, but also on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations.

Photo

Outside the Rolling Rez bus, the Native American artist Robin Flynn cuts chains for jewelry sold to the Heritage Center.

Credit
Kristina Barker for The New York Times

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