Visiting artist provides unique after-school opportunity

posted on February 22, 2012

Angela Babby, an Oglala Lakota woman living in Billings, MT, has been on campus during the past couple of weeks, facilitating an after-school program for interested high school students. Even before her visit, Red Cloud students had a degree of familiarity with Babby’s art, as her massive and arresting image of White Buffalo Calf Woman now hangs in the new high school addition. Babby’s medium is pieces of glass, cut and colored with enamels and then fired in a kiln, which she fashions into striking mosaics.

This is the first time in many years that Red Cloud has been able to bring such a visiting artist to campus. According to high school art teacher Leah Maltbie, the organization “South Dakotans for the Arts” has funds on hand to cover half the costs of such programs for interested schools, but even half of the money was beyond the reach of her departmental budget. In this case, however, the funding came from the Smithsonian Institution, through their Artist Leadership Program.

The Artist Leadership Program came about in the mid-1990s in response to a lack of access to Smithsonian collections for Native people, particularly in the area of the arts. The express purpose of the program is to enable indigenous artists to access the collections of their choice, and use this access as a basis for research. They are then, according to the National Museum of the American Indian’s Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program, expected to return to their home communities “empowered with new artistic skills and techniques to share with their community and the general public the value of Native knowledge through art.”

This latter component of the program can take a couple of different forms. One option is that the artist, having returned to his or her home community, identifies a local youth group “to design, develop, and complete a public art project that will result in a finished product such as a sculpture, mural, theatrical work, musical performance, or video.” The artist is also expected to provide ten art or production lessons to at least five community youth.

Each year 20-35 applicants from throughout the Americas submit proposals for the program, and four are selected. The review committee that makes the final recommendations includes several former recipients of the grant in question. When Ms. Babby applied to the program and was accepted, she already had a relationship with Red Cloud, both through The Heritage Center and due to her White Buffalo Calf Woman project. So when the time came for her to choose a community-based educational setting, Red Cloud was a natural choice.

Of her decision, she said “Much of my family is from here, and I have ancestors buried in the cemetery up on the hill. But before I got involved with the school through the art show and the [piece in the student commons], I had never actually set foot inside. But once I did, I really fell in love with the place. And the students are great – it’s really amazing to see all the wonderful things that go on here.” Junior January Tobacco (pictured above) enjoyed the process of making a glass mosaic of Chief Red Cloud, under Babby’s direction, but she did have one reservation: “I was really nervous using the glass cutter; I thought I was going to cut too much and break my pieces.” Steady hands prevailed, though, and Tobacco’s finished piece turned out to be lovely.

For more information on Angela Babby and her art, please visit the following sites: