Gallery becomes a leader for lasting change through relationship-building

Racing Magpie will be holding their 2nd Annual Valentine’s Art Market, in partnership with the Black Hills Indian Art Market, to be held Saturday February 10. (Photo by Marnie Cook)

RAPID CITY – It isn’t easy to create something that has lasting value and maintain its original integrity. That’s exactly what Racing Magpie has been able to do. Eight years later and a new location, Racing Magpie continues to offer its space, both physical and virtual, and have become a leader in the art community around the state.

“Mary and I and Racing Magpie have shown a track record of creating conversation and holding space for others,” said Co-Founder Peter Strong.

Currently, Racing Magpie is partnering with “Remembering the Children Memorial” hosting the Remember The Children Memorial Exhibit February 2-4 at Racing Magpie’s new location, 801 E. St. Andrew Street in Rapid City. The community will be able to learn more about the project and look at the planning documents for the upcoming groundbreaking in preparation for construction to begin this spring/summer.

Also, Racing Magpie will be holding their 2nd Annual Valentine’s Art Market, in partnership with the Black Hills Indian Art Market, to be held Saturday February 10.

“We are offering space for artists to sell their work at Racing Magpie,” Strong explained. “We will have booths set up on both floors. We try to do at least 2 to 4 events a year, big public events like that, where you can come and meet the artists. There will be hands on screen-printing demonstration with our featured artist Michael Two Bulls, where you can bring your own t-shirt or canvas bag.” Strong said there will be beadwork, leather, silver, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, prints, cards, lapel pins, as well as paintings, framed art, textile goods, hand-made dolls and a food vendor.

The original concept when Racing Magpie opened their gallery in 2015 was to offer a place for Native artists and community to gather. But it was to be more than that. Strong said that he and his wife Mary Bordeaux imagined the space would be a hub of creativity, congregation, sustainability and learning with a focus on Native and regional artists.

Again, it was to be more than that. It would reflect the Oceti Sakowin culture and embody the values of Mitakuye Oyasin. Both the Racing Magpie name and their logo are drawn from a Lakota origin story about the race to determine order. The logo is not merely random “tribal” shapes, but has great meaning and echoes the “transcendent and abstract aesthetics used in the painted hide designs” of the Lakota. The story and their logo acknowledge “the heart of all that is,” Paha Sapa, and highlight the responsibilities each person has to each other, to their surroundings, to the land, and the responsibility to be a good relative in the Lakota way.

It would be a contemporary Native gallery where Native artists could have exhibits that weren’t tied to stereotypes and tourism, where Native artists could create without having to cater to a specific market or pander to those stereotypes. “It was really based in what are Native artists wanting to do without having to worry about a market, which we didn’t have and still don’t have that opportunity in the region.” Strong chuckled ironically, “there is more than when we started, which is good.”

Their concern would also redefine “art” for the non-Native community. For the Lakota, art is culture and culture is art. “The colonial museum is about saving a thing and exhibiting it as the other or the exotic,” said Strong. “This is about a continuum. The past, present and future are not separate. That those lifeways continue throughout.”

Racing Magpie started out in a prime location at the historic Aby’s Feed building and rapidly developed it into a thriving art space. They grew quickly, expanding to provide artist studios for affordable rent. “Pretty soon a couple of arts organizations were inquiring about office space,” said Strong. “The Black Hills Playhouse rented an office space from us for four years. It continued to build and eventually we added a classroom and community events.” Within three years, Racing Magpie had tripled in physical space.

When COVID-19 hit, Racing Magpie tapped into some of the federal pandemic dollars designed to help organizations reach people and make connections at a time when they were isolated. Racing Magpie easily transitioned to using more digital space and holding virtual events.

While their new location isn’t as easily accessible as their original location downtown, it is a better location for the Racing Magpie community. One of the artists who rents space from Racing Magpie, John Goes In Center, said he likes the new location and does not miss the sound of trains passing by.

Strong said their Winter Camp program has become popular. During a conversation between Strong and Magpie artist and elder Jhon Goes In Center who was sharing details about Winter Camp, pre-contact. “It was a season to come together, reconnect with each other, to share knowledge, to share food, to share space, to build family and strengthen each other.” What does Winter Camp look like now? With the technologies, with the reservation, the tisopaye? Strong said together they wondered if there was a way to bring that idea back or to take the spirit of it and bring it into today and think about the future.

Strong said it came together during the pandemic where they decided to create a platform to lift up Lakota knowledge keepers. “We have so many knowledge keeper from all these different forms of art and culture. They’re recorded already so people can participate live and then there’s a Facebook video archive and on YouTube for those who aren’t on social media. It has become a really positive and important resource.”

There is a different coordinator/consultant each year for Winter Camp. Strong said by having a different person each year, they are able to reach different parts of the community. “We are running late this year but we are hoping to get our slate together for 2 months of presentation starting in February.

Racing Magpie purchased two buildings at the new location. They currently are not using the second building but Strong said they intend to launch a campaign to ask the community how to utilize the space.

“Change isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen through programming. It’s going to happen through relationship-building and trust-building, because of the 150 years of trauma and negative engagement.” Strong, who is non-Native, but is married into a Native family, said he is still learning. “I’m still a newcomer and I’m still baffled by the dynamics here in Western South Dakota. I can’t quite understand it. We as Racing Magpie decided that we don’t have the answer but our approach of relationship building, self-awareness, and setting some expectations for ourselves we are hoping to spread those attributes to some other organizations and hoping that over the long-term that it just catches.”

(Contact Marnie Cook at

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