A former liquor store in Nebraska that’s just walking distance from the Pine Ridge Reservation will get a face lift. Organizers in both states will create a work space for local artists.
The liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska made national news. For years, the four businesses in the tiny town gave residents of the alcohol-free Pine Ridge Reservation easy access to liquor. More than a year ago, the stores shut down.
Now, a nonprofit will turn one of the empty buildings into a makerspace - that’s a shared studio where artists can use tools and supplies.
Jon Ruybalid is an attorney and the founder of the nonprofit Whiteclay Makerspace. He says it’s an opportunity for surrounding Nebraska and South Dakota communities, but he expects most of the use to come from locals in Pine Ridge Village.
“The major intersection in the village of Pine Ridge is just under two miles North of where we’re at. It basically starts as you go across the border there. We’re right there at Pine Ridge. And so the artists are there and the residents and the youth and people are really going to benefit from this.”
Ruybalid says there are many artists in Pine Ridge, but there isn’t a place locally that sells supplies. He says the cost of materials can add up quickly.
“If they need supplies, whether it’s beads or paint or canvas or something like that, they have to find a way to get to Rapid City. you know they have to pay somebody 50 dollars for gas just to take them to Rapid City and it’s very costly for them. So by the time they get these supplies, it takes away their profit.”
Ruybalid says the makerspace is set up to lend supplies at a minimal cost- and also to sell supplies and save artists a trip. Eventually he hopes to expand the space and build an art gallery near Pine Ridge.
But the primary goal is to help artists make a profit.
"This is about the artists. The story here is about the artists who are going to succeed and use this as at least a part time job but a support for their family to get their art available.”
Joe Pulliam is an Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribal Member and artist in Pine Ridge. He does ledger art - a traditional Plains Tribes technique were artists watercolor paint and draw on antique ledger paper.
“The tradition of art in our culture, it’s everyday. It’s called Wolakota. It’s living it, it’s part of our lives.”
Pulliam currently works with nearly 15 Pine Ridge based artists called the Lakota Oyate artisans. They meet about once a week and help each other find places to sell their work, including upcoming art shows and markets and online sales. He says it’s not easy for artists on the reservation to make a profit.
“One of the logistics of being on the reservation is we’re subject to no economy here. There’s nowhere that we can go and sell it because One thing-the market is flooded. The other thing is the isolation-there’s no people here unless it’s tourist season.”
Pulliam says the artisans are planning to collaborate with the Whiteclay Makerspace as it evolves. He says the accessibility to supplies and clientele will be essential for the artists - and it may help locals preserve their culture for future generations.
“We are the kitchen table artists. We’re the ones that are really maintaining and keeping alive the tradition of our art, on the grassroots level I should say. Because the big time artists-of course those are inspirations that we all need to look up to and try to achieve those goals.”
Pulliam says the nonprofit plans to start renovating the space in the spring. It’s expected to open to artists later this year.