Aaron Pearcy Mural Cheyenne River
About This Life Inc.
Artist Aaron Pearcy works on a mural at the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park in Cheyenne River.

Easing the Pain of Rapid City Racist Attack With Art

Christina Rose

About This Life Inc. is a small nonprofit making big murals around the world, and in Rapid City, South Dakota, where they are based. They are hoping their next project will feature the theme “All children are sacred,” at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center before the end of February.

The Civic Center is the site of a racial incident that occurred on January 27, when one or more allegedly intoxicated men called out racist names and spilled beer on young children during a Rapid City Rush Hockey game. The children, ages 9 to 13, were ushered out of the arena by their chaperones out of concern the situation might escalate.

RELATED: More Beer, More Racism at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center; Elders Become Latest Victims

“We got to thinking about what we could do to show the kids they are welcome here; that is not how the community as a whole views them,” explained Sara Johnson Levy, an About This Life Inc. board member. “We came up with the idea to do a piece that conveys all children are respected, all children are sacred.”

The project has not yet been approved by the executive director of the Civic Center, but the nonprofit will be meeting with him and others on February 11 to discuss designs. The mural is expected to be completed before the children come back by the end of February, by invitation, to attend another Rush game. “We will start as soon as we get approval from the executive director,” Levy said.

Larry Dale, the events coordinator at the Civic Center believes the mural will be approved. “I think we stand a really good chance. We did a mural with these artists AMP (Aaron Pearcy) and Derek Smith two years ago and it was phenomenal. They did a mural of a couple of warriors, the flag, and the names of fallen soldiers, and it was very well received by the public. Our building has a bunch of blank walls right now. This would be a very cool project, very timely in making a statement about what we need to do,” he said.

Artist Aaron Pearcy speaks with a child about the art of spray painting and murals. (About This Life Inc.)

The tension in Rapid City is still high over the incident as the names of the men who allegedly assaulted the children have not yet been released. The Native community feels the failure to release the names is a different tact than is usually taken in Rapid City.

“This is an ongoing active investigation. We do not release suspect names unless there is a dangerous person on the loose,” Rapid City Police spokesman Brendyn Medina explained. “Our policy is that we don’t release the names unless criminal charges have been filed or an arrest has been made.”

The police announced earlier that those responsible for the actions have been identified, and the investigation is continuing. “Our detectives are actively working the case right now, so what we are trying to determine is if there was any criminal activity that actually occurred,” he said. “When you have a Rush game where there are thousands of people from around the region, it kind of blows up the investigation in terms of scope. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we are trying to put together as comprehensive a picture of what happened as we can.”

For Julie Garreau, executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, the mural is a beautiful response to the horror the children endured. About This Life Inc. developed an Art Park for the Cheyenne River Youth Center and Garreau described the artists as “really passionate, driven kids. They are really something special. When this incident happened, they reacted proactively.”

Garreau, like most of the Native community in South Dakota, disagrees with the way the police have handled the situation. “Any other alleged perpetrator, they would say ‘alleged perp.’ This is appalling to Native and non-Native folks. I keep picturing those little faces, and their little hearts, and how easy it is to just tear that away. That was 57 kids. They have taken an entire generation and planted a seed.”

Julie Garreau and Tammy Joy Eagle Hunter join in the mural painting at the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park. (About This Life Inc.)

Withholding the names of the police officers created deep division in Ferguson, Missouri, Garreau said. “All that did was intensify race relations, it didn’t do any good at all. By not releasing the names they are making this worse. I think those who will do the murals are doing something remarkable.

“You know those men, they took a chunk of their little souls. It’s a horrible, horrible thing that we can never fix, but we take a big action like this and it sends a fantastic message, it says, ‘No, this is not how we see you, we value you.’ Treating them like royalty will not fix them... These are children. Those kids were excited to go to Rapid City and now they don’t want to go back there. They are being asked to go back into a battle zone. There is so much wrong with this.”

Aaron Pearcy, one of the artists who will paint the mural, believes the project will have a healing effect on the situation. “Any art form has the power to move, to touch, and to heal people. Even without them realizing what is happening. As kids we were never told to color in the lines, so why should anyone have to live their life inside the lines others drew. Art brings people together purely because we like to see what is being created and everyone likes to be a part of creation. I mean, we are all already part of creation.”

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