Art Alley graffiti artists have taken their talents and message
to Pine Ridge where on Wednesday they finished painting a large
mural that includes Chief Red Cloud.
Derek "Focus" Smith said the goal is to create beauty in an
area where residents face challenges every day.
"Beautifying the community adds to the quality of life for the
citizens," Smith said Wednesday in a phone interview from the town
of Pine Ridge. "It makes them proud of where they live and could
help them see things in a different way and know there are more
things out there for them, like more possibilities and opportunities
Sara Levy, 33, along with Smith, 25, and Aaron AMP
Pearcy, 19, recently formed the nonprofit group About This Life
Inc., with a goal of spreading hope, love and inspiration through
art to those in need.
They plan to hold events using various art forms in hopes of
strengthening communities and creating awareness. In October, the
group flew to Boston and painted a mural near where the marathon
bombing happened with a goal of promoting healing.
On Tuesday, Smith and Pearcy began transforming the side of
an old building that operates as a video store on the reservation
from bland bricks to a vibrant piece of artwork.
Red Cloud was a legendary war chief, who led battles against
the U.S. Army and signed the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.
His descendant, Chief Oliver Red Cloud, died July 4, 2013, at
the age of 93 after dedicating his life to championing Lakota culture.
The artists painted for two days, struggling through the cold
and windy weather before finishing the mural on Wednesday afternoon.
The artists also would not comment on whether they had anything
to do with the temporary mural of Nelson Mandela that appeared in
Founders Park on Dec. 27.
But that mural aligns with the aspirations of the artists and
"In every regard and facet of what we're doing, we want to use
our artwork to express that there is strength in each and every
person to continue to better themselves and keep moving forward
in the face of adversity," Smith said. "Basically, we're trying
to change lives by using our art as a lesson and an inspiration
The group of young artists whose work has been displayed in
Art Alley in downtown Rapid City are trying to change the negative
associations many people have with graffiti.
"Part of what we're trying to change is that negative correlation
with the word 'graffiti,' that it's an act of vandalism instead
of an act of inspiration," Smith said.
The nonprofit group is currently self-funded, but its members
hope to begin raising money to help spread their vision.
The artists said that while painting the mural in Pine Ridge,
several passers-by asked them what they were up to. Smith said they
love being able to interact with those the art impacts and the best
feeling is when someone passing by can't help but stop and stare.
"When you see that moment of elation or surprise on someone's
face, it warms the heart every time," Smith said.