Native Pop Festival seeks to strengthen intercultural dialogue in community art space

Cutline 1 Native POP 2024 hoop dancer Tara Kingi performing. (Photo by Marnie Cook)

Cutline 2 Native POP 2024 hoop dancer Tara Kingi performing. (Photo by Marnie Cook)

Cutline 3 Native POP o2024 overall winner showing a current project to create playing cards for Native casinos. (Photo by Marnie Cook)

Cutline 4 Native POP 2024 overall winner Joe Pulliam with his winning piece. (Photo from Joe Pulliam’s Facebook page)



Native POP 2024 hoop dancer Tara Kingi performing. (Photo by Marnie Cook)

RAPID CITY – The storms that have been passing through South Dakota rested during the day on Saturday and Sunday to provide perfect early summer weather for the 12th Annual Native Pop: People of the Plains juried art show – a gathering of arts and culture June 28-30. The wind picked up on Sunday, but it was just as well as the temperature soared to 90 degrees.

This free event, held in the heart of downtown Rapid City at Main Street Square, features fine art by about 50 established and emerging Great Plains Native visual artists, performing artists, jewelry makers and fashion designers. It also includes demonstrations by tribal members of traditional and contemporary art such as regalia-making and storytelling.

Each day features a line-up of musicians who entertain the downtown area. This year featured a lot of younger groups playing contemporary music. Like the many volunteers who make this happen every year, the musicians also volunteer for the opportunity to play on the stage at Main Street Square. Saturday started with comedy from Chris Barrera and Dean Lapointe. Music filled the day and then hoop dancer Tara Kingi gave a performance late in the day on Saturday afternoon.

The mission of this annual event is to share and celebrate Great Plains Indigenous art and culture in efforts to strengthen intercultural dialogue and relationship through equitable art and cultural opportunities. The entire event also offers the chance for artists to get great exposure, network and can help build an artist’s resume.

“There are only two Indigenous juried art shows in the state right now,” said executive director Raine Nez. “Ours (Native POP) and Red Cloud Indian School.” Nez said it can be important for an artist to be juried. “When they join a judgement, they submit their art to get judged, to see who wins. We give away thousands of dollars. It really takes a lot, a community and everyone coming together to make this work.”

Native POP was inspired by The Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water. Main Street Square is a Rapid City Vision Fund recipient. In 2011, when it was built, the architect wanted public art to surround the space where everyone can gather. He included 21 large granite rocks called The Sculpture Project – a blank canvas waiting to tell the story of the community. Public art is any work of art created to interact with the community in a public space.

An artist was needed for the project who could capture the unique culture and history. Japanese artist Masayuki Nagase, a stone sculptor who carves stone by hand, was chosen. He gathers his ideas from nature and local people. Inspired by the Badlands and the Black Hills, Nagase carved the passage of wind and water into the surface of the stone shapes. This is abstract art, which means the images express an idea rather than capture how something actually appears. Wind depicted in the stones is expressed through visuals like bent blades of grass. The passage of time is also expressed through fossils etched into the stones and the presence of animals and humankind. This theme of transformation encompasses the entire passage of wind and water.

The project is for and about the city’s community. Like all public art, it is designed to bring diverse groups together and open a conversation of common ground and shared values of residents and visitors.

It would only seem right then, to hold an annual Indigenous festival at the place called the Badlands Tapestry Garden, which is the first group of Nagase’s sculptures inspired by the wind and evolution of life on the Badlands landscape, which includes a design patterned after the Fairburn agate.

Native POP 2024 overall winner Joe Pulliam with his winning piece. (Photo from Joe Pulliam’s Facebook page)

At this year’s Native POP, Ledger artist Joe Pulliam won Best of Division for his piece titled “Guardians of Lakota Airspace.” It’s on a USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) map of Box Elder. “It includes Ellsworth Air Force Base as well as Rapid City Regional Airport and Rapid Creek on the map. I also included a B-21 Bomber. It’s kind of a mix of traditional and contemporary. In the foreground of the map is a warrior riding horseback in the clouds holding a lightening bolt and nearby is an eagle and swallows that represent photons and neutrons to represent electricity. I included the B-21 Bomber because Ellsworth is there.”

After maintaining his gallery downtown for 30 months, Pulliam has recently been traveling to Minnesota and Colorado attending different events.

“Recently, I have tried to focus on research, Dakota history, the exile and all the events that lead up to it, the Dakota War of 1862. With 25 years of graphic design and ledger art experience I felt with a sense of color and design combined with these serious subjects I could bring awareness to them.” He said traditional art forms like ledger art incorporate current events in the tradition of ledger art.

Pulliam has often attended the Native POP festival. “It has gotten bigger and better. I am just honored to be included with such a talented and amazing group of artists and performers.”

Another project he is working on now is to create cards for Indian casinos. He currently has the jack of spades finished but he said there will be some changes to it.

The overall winner of the art show has their winning piece featured on all promotional materials for the next year. Like the 2023 winner Gerald Cournoyer’s was used to advertise the 2024 event, so too will Pulliam’s “Guardians of Lakota Airspace” be featured on all promotional materials for the 2025 Native POP festival.

Nez said the artist reception this year was held at the Suzie Cappa Art Center, a member of the Black Hills Works family which has been a Vision Fund recipient. “We are grateful for that collaboration because right next to Suzie Cappa is a wine bar, so those who wanted adult refreshments could enjoy that and view the art.”

Nez there were a lot of small donors who helped this year, among them the Wind Rose Foundation, Crazy Horse, NDN Collective, COUP Council, Monument Hospital, and the Dahl, another Vision Fund recipient.

“It was my first year as executive director and I didn’t have much of a budget. So, I really had to go out and reach out to people, asking if they believed in us to help fund or assist the event this year. But like I said, this is my first year and I can’t take all the credit because there’s a community out there that helps with every aspect of it.”

(Contact Marnie Cook at

James Star Comes Out showcased his exquisite fashion designs on the runway at Native Pop in Main Street Square on Saturday June 29. (Photo by Ernestine Anunkasan Hopa)

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