One young artist traveled all the way from Rapid City to see Scape Martinez
Martinez Calls CRYP’s Arts Initiatives “a Stroke of Genius,” Noting That the RedCan Graffiti Jam Launched a Movement That Could Have National and Even Global Impact
Published September 15, 2015
EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA — Earlier this month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® welcomed San Jose, California-based artist Scape Martinez to its East Lincoln Street campus for a week of mural painting and youth arts education. During the week prior to Labor Day, Martinez painted a mural on Eagle Butte’s Main Street, painted a second one in CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Art Park, and engaged children of all ages in a special Youth Graffiti Jam.
An accomplished multidisciplinary artist and best-selling writer who has been involved in the graffiti art scene since the 1980s, Martinez has pushed the boundaries of both graffiti and street art, bringing them firmly into the fine art, public art and educational arenas. He also has written four books on creating graffiti-style urban art, and he frequently conducts workshops and lectures for teenagers, fellow artists and educators.
During the jam on September 4, Martinez worked with children on small can control exercises, teaching basic can control and effects. According to Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director, one of the jam participants surprised everyone.
“One little boy traveled all the way from Rapid City to see him,” she said. “That’s more than a two-hour drive each way. That says a lot about how graffiti art resonates with today’s youth, and it’s validation for our many art initiatives here on Cheyenne River.”
For Martinez, the pairing of graffiti art and Lakota culture on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation makes perfect sense.
“Graffiti has a history of being the voice for those of us who may not have a voice, or whose voices have been ignored,” he said. “Ignored by a myriad of socio-political ills, whether it’s our disenfranchised youth in our urban centers or outlying youth in suburban America. I ask a question — whose voice has been more unsung than that of our native peoples and the youth on the rez? If there ever was a pairing that was meant to happen, it is graffiti art and native peoples.
“The history of native peoples in North America is rich with trials and tribulations, traditions and cultures,” he continued. “Graffiti art is an elastic art form, so elastic that it can build onto these ideas and create something altogether new, bold and expressive.”
Martinez first became acquainted with the nearly 27-year-old, not-for-profit youth project and its executive director, Julie Garreau, when CRYP prepared to launch the inaugural RedCan graffiti jam this past summer. He said he was completely bowled over by the concept, which was a first for Indian country.
“I felt it was a stroke of genius,” he said. “In conversations with Julie, I felt — and continue to feel — that the implications of this project can and will have national impact and far-reaching implications. At its core, it is the fundamental idea of empowering youth to harness and express their voices. Visual arts have a proven history of fostering this within youth.”
Learning can control in the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park with Scape Martinez.
Garreau and the staff at CRYP share Martinez’s perspective. In the last 18 months, the youth project opened the innovative 5-acre Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, launched its art internship program for teens, hosted RedCan, graduated the first cohort of interns and opened the application process for the second, and invited a series of acclaimed graffiti and street artists to host a variety of ongoing workshops. Visiting artists have included lead instructor Peyton Scott Russell from Minneapolis and fellow instructors Biafra Inc. from Minneapolis, Siamese from Rapid City, and Kazilla from Miami.
“RedCan was more than just a graffiti jam, and our arts initiatives are more than just run-of-the-mill youth programming,” Garreau said. “We’re making history right now. What we’re doing here every day is so powerful that you want to call it a movement. Art is saving lives. It’s healing kids, and it’s healing our community. On our campus and throughout the streets of Eagle Butte, you can see how the opportunity to express yourself makes all the difference in the world.”
Martinez also called CRYP’s efforts a movement, and he predicted that those far-reaching implications would go farther than its creators might imagine.
“In the not-so-distant future, as the world watches, I can see the founders of this movement at the United Nations,” he said, “to proclaim victory upon victory with their youth, and how this movement beginning with RedCan can capture the desires and passions of native youth to be shared with the world.”
To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@waniyetuwowapi).