RAPID CITY – Becoming a successful artist almost always means becoming a successful entrepreneur; managing the logistics of business in addition to mastering the creative process, honing their craft while pushing the boundaries of their medium to keep up with the up-and-com-ers. It can be a daunting prospect, particularly for creatives already busy with their art, and their lives.
“Artists do this every day. They have to code switch,” notes Racing Magpie founder Peter Strong, pointing to the inherent responsibility to balance community, family, and work-life, particularly when it means traveling to art markets and fairs to sell their work. Adding in business essentials like website construction and management, marketing efforts, and accounting, pushes many talented artists to surrender the dream and resign themselves to “hobbyists”.
While classes and workshops are available at all kinds of price-points, the missing element Strong noticed was true one-on-one support for artists. Particularly for indigenous artists. “There’s an in-equity in access for native artists, [especially] to individualized support… [barriers like] financial means or physical location”… the very needs Strong set about addressing first in his formation of Racing Magpie, and most recently in his final project as a Change Network Awardee. The concept and opportunity that gave life to the Artist Development Training program.
“I wanted to create a project that would help create change in my community,” Strong remembers of his focus in the Change Network Program. “After a lot of brainstorming, asking ‘what can we do in the community that would tie in with what we’re already doing?’” the Artist Development Training concept began to crystalize around the idea that “Mary and I have had some experiences… Not saying we’re the experts – but how can we use that to give back to this amazing community of native artists?”
The clearest answer was a kind of mentorship program. Artists connect with professionals via a central contact point; usually over the phone or through the Racing Magpie website, and – after filling out a questionnaire lining out tribal affiliations and other basic information – are then scheduled for a one-on-one training. Program participants are paired with a professional – for now, either Peter or his wife Mary – and asked to “pick one thing we can talk about for an hour.” A specific need or question, like ‘How do I write a grant?’ or ‘What should I be charging for my work?’ Asking ‘How can I be a successful artist?’ is just too broad, Strong bemuses, laughing, “We aren’t magic.”
But, he finds, “artists know more than they think they do.” With the support of a professional experienced in the business of art, creatives are given an opportunity to look at their situations with new eyes, reframe the challenge or opportunity, and come up with a comprehensive plan for moving forward. Not necessarily to some wild level of success, but at least through whatever the next step may be to get there. “We all have to support each other,” Strong affirms, and as the project nurtures the overarching web of connectedness and support inherent in Indian society – the Lakota tradition of being a good relative
– he imagines a trajectory of long-term growth for the program.
“I don’t want it to be a one-off. The whole idea is that it rolls into something we can organically do and can consistently – and continually – offer.” Eventually, perhaps, evolving into a rich pairing of professionals with diverse backgrounds and fields of expertise with all manner of indigenous artists across the country. That, he reflects, is a beautiful extension of the overall goal of Racing Magpie as a whole. “Our consulting, and this idea of continuing to build a network – a national network of native artists, it’s about Indian country as much as it’s about anything else.”
Strong is currently coaching one creative entrepreneur in constructing a website that will ultimately support the artist in exposing his work to the world. A handful of other artists have already signed up for the program and twice that many have expressed interest. And while that doesn’t seem like a large number, at this point, it’s manageable for Strong and his wife. Speaking to the overall impact of a larger, longer term program, he appreciates that the effort could “really help Racing Magpie deepen what we do across the board,” but notes that there are some smaller steps that need to come first. “Structurally we have to figure out how to manage time,” he says with a smile. “Organizationally, if we’re going to sustain our impact, these projects have to help us work through this.” Long term viability is essential. For Racing Magpie, yes, but most importantly for the artists and communities in and around Indian country who they serve – and the Artist Development Training is a wonderful new tool.
As an entirely free service and one in which geographic location is almost inconsequential, “It’s a new take on the existing models,” Strong says, “these services are important because it’s about lending our skills to uplift all of what’s going on.” And, he acknowledges it’s a work in progress. “We’re just trying to figure out how it all fits together; a place where native people feel comfortable to push the boundaries and create this community.” But as Strong points out, that’s just a part of the magic of the process… like a work of art; “You can see where it’s going, but it’s not done. It’s [still] beautiful.”
Strong credits his experience in the Change Network – an extension of the Bush Foundation and the National Arts Strategies, along with other partners – for giving him the training and support to create and execute this program. To participate, simply connect with Racing Magpie through one of their channels; on Facebook, over the phone, or at RacingMagpie.com.
(Contact Jaclyn Lanae at AuthorJaclynLanae@gmail.com)