Cultural and art center faces roadblocks

David Melmer
12/31/07

RAPID CITY, S.D. - A much-touted and maligned project that would create a location for artists, performers, educators and vendors of the Lakota culture has met with roadblocks and criticism from local government officials throughout the last few years.

The project, now called Powwow Gardens & Indian Art Market, was accepted as a Vision 2012 Project for economic development for Rapid City. The city proposed to give the land and fund the construction of the project with an $812,000 grant.

The project, promoted and driven by the Alliance of Tribal Tourism Advocates, a coalition of all the tribes in South Dakota organized to promote tourism for the tribes, has met with objections from city council members and city officials over funding, revenue and location.

Today, the location is the major stumbling block. According to ATTA officials, the ideal location is located in what Rapid City has termed a flood plain. Another location close to the preferred site is now on the table. Both sites are near the Journey Museum of Rapid City, which houses the Sioux Indian Museum.

''The City Council has to reconfirm they want this to happen and say this is the site,'' said ATTA Executive Director Daphne Richards-Cook.

In 1972, a major flood caused by a 100-year storm left the city decimated and hundreds of lives were lost. The flood plain along the major creek in the city is now a park system.

''For the past two and one-half years, we have done everything they want us to do,'' Richards-Cook said.

Still, obstacles and concerns expressed by Rapid City officials continue to delay a final decision on a site. One of the project's overall goals is to create a healing mechanism between the city and the American Indian community, and within the Native community itself. It will also draw tourists to the center of the city. Located in the foothills of the Black Hills, Rapid City is a major destination for tourists who in many cases come to the area to experience the West and interact with American Indians and the culture.

The project, as planned, will also offer the large population of American Indians in Rapid City a center for cultural activity that will provide an educational and entertainment tool for residents and the vast number of visitors that come through the Black Hills every year.

''We want to be the driving force and not let others use Indian images and people to attract tourism,'' Cook said.

The park will eventually provide performance artists with storytellers and theatrical performances along with cultural performers that will also be able to share a portion of the culture with visitors.

Plans call for a living history area, a pow wow ground, a location for vendors to sell their products and a concession to showcase American Indian foods. It will also act as an arts incubator and promote internships for young people to learn about business or art, cultural resources and hospitality as potential future careers.

The grounds will be able to accommodate more than 2,000 people in a performance setting, and it is expected that well-known national and local performing artists will be scheduled.

The BIA transportation and tourism departments have thrown weight behind the project with a grant of $75,000 to develop partnerships with the tribal leaders. What the project needs now is the support of tribal leaders from the region to bring the city of Rapid City into full support of the project, said Ed Hall, co-founder of the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association and a transportation specialist with the BIA Division of Transportation. Hall is also a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota.

Expectations by the board of ATTA and other supporters is that the completed project will have a unifying effect on the American Indian community in Rapid City, which boasts of between 15,000 and 20,000 people, and bring a sense of pride while teaching the culture to the non-Indian and American Indian communities.

The expectation is to have the project up and running by 2009; however, because of setbacks and other roadblocks, the ground-breaking may not happen in the spring of 2008 as scheduled.

A meeting in January with the Rapid City City Council and committees may either put the project on a track to completion with approval of a site, or set the project back again.

The actual name of the project may also change, as it has grown in scope since its inception to include more focus on performing arts and fine art events and less on pow wow events. At a recent ATTA meeting, it was determined that the facility would become more of a cultural center due to the different types of proposed events.

ATTA will be a facilitator of the project, bringing together organizations and businesses that will partner with ATTA and each other in presenting and organizing events, board members said.

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