We Are Still Here is a multi-year 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 downtown Minneapolis and the American Indian Corridor highlighting contemporary Native culture and dispel stereotypes. The initiative will also establish a sustainable framework for ongoing engagement among the Trust and other downtown Minneapolis stakeholders.
This 18-24-month initiative will serve as a learning cohort featuring three artists who will work with project mentor Jonathan Thunder to create digital designs, full-motion animation, projects and a possible large-scale mural. 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.
Hennepin Theatre Trust and NACDI selected local Native artist Jonathan Thunder as the cohort mentor for We Are Still Here. “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 Star, 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.
Hennepin Theatre Trust transforms the place and spaces in the Hennepin Theatre District to a more vibrant and inclusive environment and welcomes the opportunity to work alongside NACDI to broaden the awareness of Native truth-telling. Nerenhausen said that he is confident that We Are Still Here will be a catalyst to weave Native culture back into Hennepin Avenue with temporary and permanent art engaging Native and non-Native people.
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 (Oglala Lakota Tribe) 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. He is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in graphic design from Oglala Lakota College.
Rock Boy is influenced by his Lakota heritage and western society blending the two cultures and letting his art develop and move where it wants.
To learn more about Ray Janis, follow him on Instagram
Ray’s art style is influenced by his Lakota heritage and western upbringing, where he dives into the past and connects it to the present. Creating eclectic pieces that are inspired from his childhood, from growing up on the “Rez,” traditional Lakota teachings, Saturday morning cartoons, music from country to hip-hop, and, of course, wanting to be like Mike.
Sheldon Starr (Oglala Sioux Tribe) is most creative in abstract painting and graphic design. He is still in the early stages of other fine art mediums but still strives for experience in all fine art forms. Graduating from Oglala Lakota College with a degree in graphic art (2020), Starr continues to utilize his graphic design experience in the freelance and commission-based fields, creating custom graphics, logos, and text for clients. Sheldon shows his creative freedom through abstract paintings based on geometric subjects and the female form. 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.
To learn more about Sheldon Starr, follow him on Instagram.
Sheldon explores the times of fine lines, sharp corners and geometric structures. Pastel, neon and saturated colors themselves influence him to create the next piece and push his palette to be more intricate in the next artwork. He strives to incorporate the brightest and darkest colors throughout the entirety of his portfolio.
Missy Whiteman (Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo) is an Emmy-nominated write, 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.
Many of Missy’s films have screened on international national and local venues such as The Walker Art Center, National Geographic All Roads Festival and Bilabo Spain. Missy is a current recipient of the McKnight Fellowship for Media Arts, a Forecast Public Art Mid-Career grant and is the alumni of The Sundance Native Lab Fellowship and Jerome Fellowship for her short film project The Coyote Way: Going Back Home. Her current project, The Coyote Way X: Expanded Cinema is a multidimensional cinematic experience of The Coyote Way: Going Back Home short film intertwined with performance, live score, video mapping and 360/VR.
While based in part Indigenous traditional practices and perspectives, her work also addresses themes of historical genocide, loss of culture, and land in relation to colonization. Missy questions the connection of life, death, spirit world and the rebirth process of revitalizing DNA memory, spirit healing, and redefinition of cultural identity.
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. Thunder has attended the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM and studied Visual Effects and Motion Graphics in Minneapolis, MN 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. Thunder is a 2020 Pollock-Krasner Foundation grantee.
At the core of Jonathan’s work is a storyline that reflects his personal lens as a filter to the social, political, environmental and spiritual climate. He works with imagery that is surreal and imaginative by incorporating influences from the structure of his dreams, the culture around him and the direction his life is headed on any given day. Jonathan considers his work “vignettes” or short stories within a larger ongoing narrative that evolves as he evolves. He make what he see.
Jonathan believes in the simplicity of a moment captured. Some cryptic or spontaneous imagery invites the viewer to create a portion of the narrative for themselves or consider an interpretation. He enjoys merging his painter self with his filmmaker self to create art that lives and pushes the boundaries of a space.