Thursday, October 20, 2011

Creative Placemaking, South Dakota Style: The Red Cloud Indian School

Storm clouds, Pine Ridge, SD
Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Image by Flickr user kerry1962
To some art advocates or culture vultures, the idea of creative placemaking in post-industrial areas might seem practically cliche. After all, we've seen it happen before. It happened organically in New York City's SoHo in the 1960s and 70s, when artists moved into old factory spaces and galleries followed; now it's one of the most expensive zip codes in the country. In Bilbao, Spain, a new Guggenheim Museum helped turn a former industrial backwater into an international tourist destination. But not every place has a gritty industrial past that can be flipped into artistic cache. How does economic development through the arts occur in rural areas? Read on to find out about the economic and cultural impact of ArtPlace grantee Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.


A direct boost to the nation's second poorest county
     Last week I wrote about ArtPlace's creative placemaking in Detroit, which carries quite a reputation for weathering economic depression. But Shannon County, South Dakota, home of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is the second poorest county in the United States. Per capita income in Shannon County is $6,286. For some perspective, Detroit's per capita income is $14,118 - over double Shannon County's. (A little side note: in researching this post I learned that eight of the ten poorest counties in the US are located on Indian Reservations. What a sobering statistic. But that's a tale for an economic advocacy blogger to tackle.)
     Despite these startling statistics, Red Cloud Indian School has been a ray of light in the county hub of Pine Ridge for the past thirty years. The gift shop at the school's museum  provides a direct boost to the area's economy by purchasing traditional Lakota artwork and crafts from local artists and artisans for sale to museum visitors. In the years since the shop opened, it has paid up to $100,000 per year to local artists. That might not sound like much, but it's a lot of money in an area where per capita income is under $7K, and where population is sparse in general - about 13,500 people reside in Shannon County.

Taking Lakota craft from local to national
     In the past, the Red Cloud gift shop has depended on tourist traffic as a market for the local crafts. (Though this is not noted by ArtPlace, Wounded Knee Battlefield, home of the famously brutal 1890 massacre, is located in Shannon County.) Now, funding from ArtPlace will help Red Cloud widen their scope by selling Lakota craftwork online. A marketing campaign is also underway to help broaden awareness of the shop. This is particularly important, ArtPlace notes, because of the wide interest in American Indian craft that can be found in all corners of the nation. Many enthusiasts may not be able to make it to remote Shannon County, but now the crafts can come to them - and they can help support the economy of an area that desperately needs it. Of course, aside from the economic part, this project is a great way to keep traditional Lakota craft alive, in South Dakota and out! (I hope these beaded Keds go up for sale soon - I'd love to snag a pair.)
     The Pine Ridge project stands in stark contrast to the kind of economic development ArtPlace is funding in Detroit. I think that difference really speaks to the localized strategy ArtPlace is employing as a funder. Their approach is the opposite of one size fits all, and that's especially obvious when you compare rural Shannon County to urban Detroit. Hopefully both projects will find the same success in kick-starting local economies through the arts! So far, they are off to a great start.

What do you think about art's potential to kick-start rural economies? Is it a real solution, or pie-in-the-sky? Let us know in the comments!

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