Lead instructor Peyton Scott Russell (back row, left) and his first students at CRYP’s new Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Arts Institute.
Published September 13, 2016
EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA— The Cheyenne River Youth Project® has announced the official launch of its Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Arts Institute. The institute, according to CRYP Executive Director Julie Garreau, is a natural evolution of the youth project’s existing arts programming, which incorporates the free, public Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, the annual RedCan graffiti jam, and an extensive—and innovative—teen art internship program.
As it grows and develops, the Waniyetu Wowapi Lakota Arts Institute at CRYP will incorporate fine art, graffiti and street art, and traditional Lakota arts. The long-term vision includes music and movement, commercial arts, full internships/peer mentor program.
“Art is not a stand-alone concept for Lakota people,” Garreau explained. “We’ve always expressed ourselves through art. It’s an integral part of our lives. Art is culture, and it’s deeply connected to community, so maintaining those connections and making them stronger is critical for us.
“I think everyone senses the importance of re-establishing and strengthening connections to traditions, stories, values and authentic culture identity,” she continued. “We must give our young people as many opportunities as possible to explore their identities and share their truths, from their own deeply personal struggles to their nation’s experiences with conflict. We also seek to share arts-related opportunities with them, from advanced education to professional development. That’s the only way to foster real healing, and to provide a vibrant and more secure future.”
Developing the LAI curriculum is lead instructor Peyton Scott Russell, an accomplished Minneapolis-based artist and teacher who has been working with CRYP since 2014. Not only did he work closely with the youth project to develop an arts curriculum for regular youth workshops and the innovative teen arts internship program, he was instrumental in the development of the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park and the ground-breaking RedCan graffiti jam.
Peyton (as he’s known professionally) has been devoted to graffiti art since he was first introduced to it as a high school student more than 30 years ago. After graduating from the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1991, he became a professional artist and art instructor, teaching the Art of Creative Lettering. He founded organizations such as House of Daskarone, Juxtaposition Arts, Art House Education and Sprayfinger. He is a 2012-14 Bush Fellow, and he remains committed to increasing the awareness of graffiti as a teachable art form through community events, exhibitions, workshops, lectures and writing curricula.
“We’re deeply grateful to Peyton, for being so dedicated to the development of our arts programming,” Garreau said. “His expertise was essential as we began arts instruction, developed our teen internships and gradually built the framework for what has become LAI.”
As Garreau observed, contemporary arts instruction allows Lakota youth to do what the Lakota nation has always done—communicating through art. And, not only is LAI about healing, positive self-expression, storytelling and strengthening connection to culture, it also will provide vital fuel for imagination, demonstrating to interested youth how they can pursue a viable and sustainable future through artistic careers.