Museum Educator Expands Opportunities for Artistic Expression on the Reservation

posted on November 22, 2013

Brandie Macdonald wears a lot of hats at Red Cloud: graphic designer, outreach coordinator, program developer, student transporter and chef. Whatever it takes to make The Heritage Center’s new Tȟéča Wówapi Káǧa Okȟólakičhiye (TWKO) or ‘Young Writers’ Society’ a success. TWKO is just one of a number of innovative, arts-based educational programs Macdonald is developing at The Heritage Center this fall.

When asked to explain her work in one word, she replies: “nonstop.” “I don’t stop being a museum educator at 5:00 pm,” says Macdonald, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “I am always finding inspiration everywhere and thinking about future programs, partnerships and how the community can be welcomed into The Heritage Center.”

Although Macdonald just arrived on Red Cloud’s campus in July, her commitment to creating engaging arts-based community programming isn’t anything new. After finishing her degree in applied anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she took on directing educational programming for the Charlotte Museum of History and the nonprofit Many Journeys.  Her work has been recognized nationally, earning her the Smithsonian Affiliate Internship at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Diversity Fellowship at the American Association of Museums, and a place on the list of Charlotte’s most Prominent Community Leaders under 40 in 2011.

As the Museum Educator at The Heritage Center, Macdonald brings her unique skills and experience to developing arts-based educational programs that bring together Native students and community members from the Pine Ridge Reservation and beyond. And her newest program, TWKO, is doing just that. Macdonald designed it based on a recent needs-assessment survey that indicated youth on the reservation needed a creative opportunity and an outlet for their thoughts and emotions.

As Macdonald explains, TWKO is an initiative to regenerate poetry, spoken word and creative writing skills in Native youth.

“There is a natural integration between Lakota culture and poetry because of a long standing history of oral tradition,” she says.  Now in its second month of programming, TWKO has brought out young poets from schools across the Pine Ridge Reservation—including Red Cloud, Pine Ridge and Little Wound—to learn and perform in front of their peers and their community, tackling some of Indian country’s most pressing issues.

According to Macdonald, TWKO is encouraging youth to write their own narratives and present their own, personal perspectives through a series of creative writing workshops that promote constructive youth collaboration. These sessions culminate in monthly poetry slams to showcase students’ work and let their voices be heard. Last month participants performed at the National Indian Education Association Convention and Trade Show in front of educators from across the nation (a performance that caught the eye of the Rapid City Journal.)

With the continued success of this breakout program, Macdonald is gearing up for her next big projects, focusing on student art and paleontology.

“You can expect two exciting programs in the near future from The Heritage Center,” says Macdonald. “The Art of Paleo program will start up this spring along with a dedicated Student Art Gallery at the Center!”

The Art of Paleo program will present workshops highlighting how art and science are intimately connected. Scholars from various backgrounds will visit the Center to discuss the significance of geological formation and fossils and how they have been artistically documented over time. They will also stress the importance of incorporating culture and art into scientific study.

Also starting this spring, The Heritage Center will display artwork by Red Cloud students in a dedicated gallery. Student artists themselves will have ownership of the gallery space, and will be responsible for facilitating and curating it while developing programming to engage their peers and the community.

Macdonald believes it’s important for students to learn that museums have a responsibility to educate and empower communities.  “Every museum has an educational responsibility to its community, and should act as a resource,” she explains.  

Macdonald says she feels blessed to be working to make The Heritage Center an even greater resource for the Pine Ridge community.

“I am passionate about working with youth and creating outlets for them to have their voices heard through many different levels of artistic expression,” says Macdonald. “The community is looking for more activities for youth, and this work lines up with that desire perfectly.”

All Content ©Red Cloud Indian School, 2013