March 17, 2020

Black Hills nonprofit supports Native American artists and, in turn, the entire community

Meet First Peoples Fund, one of the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. Five winners each will receive $40,000 from The Atlantic and Allstate.

First Peoples Fund supports artists from Native communities, helping them succeed and share their passion with others.

Editor's Note

Meet the finalists for the 2020 Renewal Awards. The annual program from The Atlantic and Allstate honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities. This year, five winners each will receive a $40,000 prize from The Atlantic and Allstate. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out who the winners are and follow the hashtag #RenewalAwards.

If anyone has witnessed the transformative power of the arts, it’s the folks working for First Peoples Fund. The nonprofit, based in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, supports and mentors artists and entrepreneurs from Native communities through fellowship programs, workshops, and classes.

Originally started in 1995, First Peoples Fund has already reached artists from more than 140 tribal nations in 34 states. They’ve also had a dramatic impact on the local community. Over the last six years, the nonprofit has put more than $6 million into the Black Hills economy. For their work helping artists thrive, First Peoples Fund was named one of 15 finalists for The Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate.

First Peoples Fund doesn’t limit what art can be. The nonprofit has provided funding for everything from visual arts like painting and bead work to performing arts like spoken word poetry and hip-hop.

“Our goal is to be able to support Native artists in lots of different mediums, especially because there is a tendency to pigeonhole Native artists and what constitutes Native art,” Communications Manager Cecily Engelheart told South Dakota Public Broadcasting. “And we know that that is much richer and deeper and more vibrant and diverse than people realize. So we really want to push that to the forefront and make it known how expansive and expressive and rooted these different artforms are.”

One way First Peoples Fund is helping foster artists is by bringing crucial creative resources—tablets and cameras—to them. That’s why in 2016, the nonprofit launched the Rolling Rez Arts bus. It’s an arts space, mobile bank, and business training center, all in one vehicle.

“The challenge of inaccessibility for these services has often been a struggle for our culture-bearers and artists who live and work on Pine Ridge Reservation,” said Brian D. Parker, Rolling Rez Art Coordinator. “When we gift someone with the tools and the knowledge to better themselves we all win.”

You can follow First Peoples Fund on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Donate to the nonprofit here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.