Fundraising is underway for the Vermillion Community Mural Project in order to complete the second half of their current project.

Currently, almost $2,675 has been raised with a goal of raising a total of $13,438.

“We are determined to complete the project one way or another and are dedicated to raising the funds in order to do so,” said Amber Hansen, University of South Dakota painting professor and project facilitator. “It is important and necessary that the lead artists are compensated for their time, talent and dedication to this project.”

Part one of the mural, titled Eúnkichetupi, is located on the backside of the Coyote Twin Theatre in downtown Vermillion and was completed this past summer.

The second half is set to pick up in May 2020 according to the website. Once completed the entire mural will wrap around one side and the back of the building.

“Part two of the mural, titled Wanáhca, the Lakota word for ‘flower that blooms,’ will fill a larger area than its counterpart,” the website reads. “This mural will serve as a visual introduction to the story depicted in Eúnkichetupi, by portraying a Native woman ‘breathing life’ into the rest of the scene. She will be braiding her hair, which flows into the Missouri River and the water that is a central theme in the first mural.”

Hansen stated that Reyna Hernandez, Inkpa Mani and Elizabeth Sky who designed the first half of the mural will finish designing the second half.

“A lot has been said about our project,” Hernandez said. “Thankfully the response has been overwhelmingly favorable.”

According to Hansen, funds raised for the project will go towards things like the cost of renting a lift to access the upper portion of the wall as well as the paint itself and primer.

“In addition, it is important that the lead artists are compensated for their time and energy in designing and creating the mural,” Hansen said. “Not only, have the lead artists spent years training and developing their craft, they have contributed countless hours conducting research, leading creative workshops with the community, designing the mural and creating opportunities for the community to join in the creative process. It’s a part of the mural that makes its creation and memory so special but that also requires a lot of time, skill, energy and organizing.”

The project is currently eligible to receive match funding through crowdfunding platform IOBY up to $15,000.

“The matching funds will be added after the fundraiser is complete,” Hansen said. “The money through IOBY is available at a first come, first serve basis and is limited, so there is some urgency in raising the money for our project while matching funds are available.”

Hansen also stated that they have been working with Ken Green’s grant writing class at the University of South Dakota.

“Ken’s students have been helping us seek out and apply for grants this past semester,” Hansen said. “We’ve also been presenting information about the project to interested organizations in town to raise awareness about the mural and our fundraising efforts.”

The first half of the project has already generated positive attention in Vermillion as well as neighboring communities.

“The most visible show of support was during the mural dedication,” Hansen said. “The alley-way facing the mural was filled with people who had come to join in celebrating the mural.”

“The overall atmosphere of the event was really inspiring because it wasn’t about anything other than people supporting one another and appreciating art together,” Hernandez said. “It was really cool.”

Hernandez stated that they have received several messages from people across the state asking for help facilitating similar projects in their own communities.

“I think that speaks volumes to the far-reaching effects that projects such as this can have on people,” Hernandez said. “I hope to see more murals across the state, representing pockets of society that are maybe under and/or misrepresented, because representation is so important.”

In an effort to demonstrate the first half of the project’s success, the team has gathered several testimonials of the mural’s personal significance.

Sara Packard Johnson stated that the mural is “healing and restorative” to herself and future generations.

“This massive, beautiful work of art feels like an open decree to Indigenous women in the area,” Johnson said. “To me, it delivers a clear message that as an Indigenous woman, I am visible. I am allowed to take up space. I am a meaningful part of this community. There is beauty in my culture, past and present.”

Serene Thin Elk also expressed the deep gratitude she has felt since learning of the project.

“To see Indigenous artists creating images of our matriarchal societies brought tears to my eyes and excitement about the future for our children,” Thin Elk said. “I plan to bring my children to see this mural because it is an opportunity for them to see themselves reflected in a way that is all too often forgotten or left out of mainstream society.”

According to Thin Elk, Indigenous artists are as necessary as doctors and mental health professionals.

“We come from an oral and storytelling tradition and without artists to document and tell stories of our past and current circumstances, we would lose historical and cultural contexts that are imperative to heal the wounds of intergenerational trauma,” Thin Elk said. “As a people we are moving from surviving to thriving and need to continue sharing our existence with the world to improve social consciousness.”

According to Hernandez, the first part of the mural has indeed improved the social consciousness in Vermillion.

“There’s been a good amount of interest in understanding the symbolism and significance of certain moments throughout the imagery of the mural,” Hernandez said. “So in that sense, I think that this project achieved what we had intended when it comes to using public art as a way to create a better understanding of contemporary indigenous people and cultures.”

More important, Hernandez said, is the impact public art like this has on Indigenous women and girls.

“The implications that arise from how you’re portrayed in media can be significant, and I think that this is particularly true for native women,” Hernandez said. “So it’s essential that our women and girls see themselves portrayed as more than violent statistics. For me, this project became about reflecting worthiness and empowerment back to our women as a way to reclaim agency over our narrative.”

Weather permitting, Hansen said the project should move forward beginning May 2020.

“We will be looking for volunteers who are interested in helping prime the wall before the community paint days,” Hansen said. “The community wide paint day will be held after the wall is primed and after the lines are transferred onto the wall. We invite everyone from the community to join us during the community paint day.”

Once finished, Hansen said the mural should last 10-15 years before restoration is needed.

In the meantime, Hansen said the public is welcome to visit Vermillion Community Mural Project — Vermillion Cultural Association or email Hansen directly for updates or to volunteer at amber.hansen@usd.edu.

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