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Art in the Dakotas

Courtesy Plains Art Museum

In the Dakotas, art comes in the colors of culture.

Native American tribes play a vital role in the cultural landscape of the Dakotas. The name Dakota derives from branches of the Sioux tribe, dubbed the Eastern and Western Dakota, as well as one of the regional varieties of the Sioux language called Dakota.

As you can imagine, the cultural and artistic traditions of the native people have left an indelible mark on the art landscape of the Dakotas. Yet the art of the Dakotas is as varied as any in the region, offering awe-inspiring carvings, modern art and lots of opportunities for tourists to create art.

Plains Art Museum
Fargo, N.D.
With around 3,000 works of national and regional contemporary art and traditional American Indian and folk art in its permanent collection, the Plains Art Museum is a premier art museum in North Dakota. The museum is most noted for its collection of contemporary Native American art, photography and prints; it also hosts special exhibitions featuring 20th- and 21st-century art.

“One of our most famous works is David Bradley’s ‘Powwow Princess,’ a Native American ‘Mona Lisa’ packed with meaning,” said Kris Kerzman, communications manager at the museum.

The Plains Art Museum also has learning options to inspire and engage visitors. Groups can see highlights of the exhibition and then take part in studio experiences that teach the techniques used in the artwork. The museum also offers a variety of art classes, gallery talks and lectures for groups looking for learning experiences.

The Arts Center
Jamestown, N.D.
The Arts Center recently finished a renovation project nearly a year in the making. The center, housed in a historic building that was once the Star Theater, unveiled the results of its $500,000 renovation in early May.

The center’s one gallery rotates exhibits every six weeks; however, semiannual special themed events feature multiple artists. This year, the entire month of August will feature local and regional artists.

“There will be a juried art show, and it is a great opportunity for local artists to exhibit their work,” said Angela Martini, advertising and public relations coordinator for the Arts Center.

Groups can participate in adult classes year-round to learn skills such as ceramics, pottery, mosaics, painting, and stained and infused glass.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Custer, S.D.
Although unfinished, the carving of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the most epic pieces of art in the region. However, there is much more art at the memorial beyond the carving.

“During the summer in the Native American Education and Cultural Center, we have more than 20 artists who come from tribes throughout the country who demonstrate and sell their art,” said Janeen Melmer, museum registrar. “There is a great cultural exchange that comes from those artists and gives guests an opportunity to interact with the arts.”

The Indian Museum of North America acts as the welcome center for the Crazy Horse Memorial and gives visitors a glimpse into the rich heritage of Native Americans through the art and artifacts on display. More than 100 tribal flags showcasing the diversity and individuality of tribal heritage are on display.

Not to be forgotten is the gallery of the bronze and marble sculpture work of Korczak Ziolkowski, the artist who created the original vision for the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Dahl Arts Center 
Rapid City, S.D.
Rapid City has a burgeoning arts scene, and the Dahl Arts Center is at the center of the progress.

“We are experiencing a renaissance of art and culture in the downtown area,” said Deborah Gangloff, executive director of the Rapid City Arts Council. “Main Street Square is just a few blocks away, and there is a new performing arts center under construction that will open at the end of the year. There are a lot of new things going on.”

The center features three galleries with rotating exhibitions of contemporary art and a black-box theater for performances. The eye-catching “Cyclorama Mural” is a 180-foot oil-on-canvas panorama painted and designed by muralist Bernard P. Thomas that displays 200 years of U.S. economic history.

For groups looking for hands-on experiences, the center offers art classes for adults in pottery, drawing, crocheting, watercolor, fiber arts and other topics.