We Are Still Here
The Return by Jonathan Thunder
The Return represents sovereignty, strength and hope. In the story of 2020 I imagined the bison raining down from the sky by the thousands at exactly the moment we needed them to arrive.
We Are Still Here is a multiyear initiative with the aim to uplift Native voices and stories in Minneapolis. This collaborative partnership between the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) and Hennepin Theatre Trust will bring large-scale, high profile public artwork created by an emerging network of Native artists to both the Hennepin Theatre District and the American Indian Cultural Corridor highlighting contemporary Native culture and dispelling stereotypes. The initiative will also establish a sustainable framework for ongoing engagement among the Trust and other downtown Minneapolis stakeholders.
A learning cohort of three Indigenous artists will work with project mentor Jonathan Thunder over 18 to 24 months to create digital designs, animation, a possible mural and more. We Are Still Here will promote native storytelling for the built environment along Hennepin Avenue. Through pilots, prototypes and a final project that will be a central feature for the reopening of Hennepin Avenue after a four-year reconstruction project culminating with the Hennepin Theatre District centennial celebration in 2022.
“As a culture-bearer, working in contemporary media, Jonathan is the ideal mentor for this group as he brings a wide range of skills from large scale painting to digital animation and installations,” said Angela Two Stars, All My Relations Arts Director. Thunder, Red Lake Ojibwe, is a multi-disciplinary artist known for the surreal imagery he uses to address the subjects of loss and recovery of indigenous sovereignty, environmental welfare and humorous social commentary through his paintings, animated and experimental films, installations and illustration work.
Engaging with native artists and community has been the mission of NACDI since its founding in 2007 and the early creation of the “American Indian Community Blueprint” in 2010. Angela Two Stars, NACDI’s All My Relations Arts director shares, “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.
In the Hennepin Theatre District, the Trust transforms the spaces along Hennepin Avenue to create a more vibrant and inclusive environment through its public art projects and programming. “We are looking forward to collaborating with NACDi to broaden the awareness of Native truth-telling and working together to create a system enabling continued public art and placemaking efforts,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO for the Trust. Nerenhausen said that We Are Still Here will be a catalyst to weave Native culture back into Hennepin Avenue connecting the District’s community to arts and cultural experiences in unexpected places.
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.