A well-known Native American artist and former administrator at Black Hills State University is donating all proceeds from the print sales of one of his works to the school. As SDPB’s Jim Kent reports, Cherokee artist John Gritts recalls his 24 years at BHSU as a time of nurturing and openness.
John Gritts attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. After he graduated college in Sioux Falls, he was hired to be Black Hills State University’s assistant financial aid officer. Seven years later, the college asked him to move up to the director’s position. Gritts says he recalls being quite impressed that a mainstream university would place a full-blooded Cherokee in a position of such responsibility.
“That’s important in where I was going with that concept of being open and nurturing,” Gritts explains. “ And I think that the college took a big chance…making me the director of financial aid…because as a full-blood American Indian…financial aid is very personal. Because you’re sharing…families and students are sharing very personal information about eligibility. But the school felt that I could do that. And I actually grew to love that job. It was just a great job and I loved the interaction I had…not only with my Native students….who I admit I took care of…special care of…but also all students as well.”
Gritts now works for the U.S. Department of Education, but maintained his interest in art through the years…primarily with pen-and-ink drawings. Gritts says it was a natural for him to create a piece for BHSU when asked to assist with their fundraising for Native American students.
“I think that that’s a welcoming atmosphere,” observes Gritts. “And the staff that are there…and, and how they open their arms. And I think the students…they’re becoming engrained into what the community is…and what the college is. And I think Spearfish as a community welcomes the students as well.”
BHSU spokesperson Steve Meeker says prints of John Gritt’s colored-pencil “BHSU Traditional Dancer” are available for $100 each, with all proceeds going to the school’s Native American scholarship fund.
Black Hills State University currently has 255 Native American students…the highest percentage of Native students on a college or university campus in the state.