We Are Still Here
The Return of the Freaky Deaky Mashode Bizhiki
by Jonathan Thunder
This series is dedicated to the bison who provided food, clothing, and shelter for generations prior to their calculated extermination by the U.S.A. as a way to starve tribes into dependence and submission.
I see these bison returning to tribes lately as “seed herds” to maintain and support Indigenous food sovereignty and economy.
About the program
We Are Still Here is a multiyear collaborative partnership between Native American Community Development Institute [NACDI] and Hennepin Theatre Trust to bring large-scale, high-profile public artworks to the Hennepin Theatre District and the American Indian Cultural Corridor. This ongoing and evolving initiative seeks to match emerging native and indigenous artists with established native and indigenous arts-mentors, in an extended fellowship that creates a variety of public art works which promote native and indigenous storytelling in the built environment along Hennepin Avenue, and throughout the greater Twin-cities metro area.
The artists and mentor(s) will work and learn together over the course of many months, creating in multiple mediums such as graphics and artwork for digital billboards, various animations, projections, building-size banners, and murals. These artworks will be exhibited and displayed in multiple formats throughout the run of each program. Their cohort experience culminates in a final, capstone project of their own choosing, allowing the mentees to take the skills and resources they have gained and move their work to the next level. Each capstone project reflects the unique nature of the artist’s exploration of native truth-telling as it intersects with its intended location.
Each cohort of artists will work closely with their mentor(s), Hennepin Theatre Trust, and NACDI to create a learning experience tailored to their individual styles, goals and needs as artists. Making each cohort its own, unique learning experience and space to collaborate and create is part of the underlying mission of We Are Still Here, which is to provide support and resources to native and indigenous artists, along with their mentor(s), supplying a platform which allows them to create engaging and thought-provoking public art that boldly re-imagines and restores historical and contemporary narratives which have been subjugated or otherwise minimized and negated.
Engaging with native artists and community has been the mission of NACDI since its founding in 2007. According to Angela Two Stars, director of NACDI’s All My Relations Arts, “by interweaving contemporary and traditional storytelling and the allyship of Indigenous communities here in the Twin Cities, we are able to connect the Dakota history of the land and continued connections to our past using the powerful visuals of our contemporary artists.” NACDI’s long-standing commitment to public engagement has enabled them to be a source of leadership and guidance among its network of Native artists and community, and the perfect collaborative partner for the We Are Still Here program.
“We are proud to have partnered with NACDI to broaden the awareness of Native truth-telling and working together to create a system enabling continued public art and placemaking efforts for the district,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO for Hennepin Theatre Trust. Nerenhausen also said that We Are Still Here is a catalyst that weaves Native and indigenous culture back into Hennepin Avenue, connecting the District’s community to arts and cultural experiences in unexpected and often profound ways.
Meet our artist mentor
Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) is a multi-disciplinary artist. He is known for his surreal paintings, animated and experimental films, installations and illustration work. Jonathan has attended the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe and studied Visual Effects and Motion Graphics in Minneapolis at the Art Institute International. His work has been featured in state, regional and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications since 2003.
Meet the We Are Still Here cohort
The cohort assists their mentor on several digital billboard designs and learns about the field of public art. Artists will learn skills to translate artwork from analog to digital media and the various platforms and venues that the Trust offers (outdoor events, mobile stage, digital billboards, store-front installations, murals, gallery exhibits and more). While the details of activities will evolve with the interests of the artists, and in line with public health regulations, the timelines will include milestone touchpoints building to a final project that will be featured as part of the Hennepin Theatre District’s centennial celebration in the fall of 2022.
Throughout this process, Jonathan Thunder will provide the project artists continued mentorship on creating public art for digital media, determining joint projects for public spaces along Hennepin Avenue and providing feedback and evaluations. Ultimately, the cohort will design and implement solo art designs, a gallery installation and the creation of a crown jewel project built on their successes which will be unveiled in the Hennepin Theatre District when Hennepin Avenue reopens in 2022 after four years of reconstruction. Aside from the technical aspects of developing public art, We Are Still Here is meant to equip the artists to create opportunities for community engagement beyond the artists themselves.
Raymond Janis goes by the artist name of Ray Rock Boy. Rock Boy is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He grew up in the Medicine Root District also known as Kyle, South Dakota. Rock Boy started his art career teaching himself how to use different adobe programs, which helped him elevate his art and knowledge in graphic design.
Sheldon Starr is most creative in abstract painting and graphic design. Paying homage to the traditional Lakota geometric designs and the aesthetics of the 1980s, Sheldon produces creative pieces that are engulfed in vibrant, saturated colors.
Missy Whiteman is an Emmy-nominated writer, director, producer and multi-media artist. Missy understands her work to be a voice for her ancestors, their stories and ancestral wisdom. Her late father, Ernest Whiteman, influenced her work with the gift of artistic vision and practice of art as a ceremony.