- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Peter Strong hopes to plant seeds of artistic creativity where great quantities of South Dakota grain once flowed.

Strong is working to transform the former Aby’s Feed and Seed Mill in Rapid City into a rentable and sharable artist space primarily for Native American artisans.

The seed for this project was planted in 2005 when Strong moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1pnyHkb ) reported. That’s where he met his wife, Mary Bordeaux, when they both worked at the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School.

“The first thing I noticed was how many incredible artists there are, just around, Native and non-Native, but there was never a space where they could come together and create art and be inspired by each other,” Strong said in a recent interview.

They started racingmagpie.com, specializing in art consulting and appraisal, collections management and grant writing, and began looking for a location to set up rentable studio space, stressing affordability and adaptability.

At an artist’s reception they met Walter Albasi and M.J., Adams, who along with Jeremy Briggs, own the old Aby’s complex which includes the long-closed mill and companion buildings, now locations for At Home Design and Barefoot Dance Studios.

The old mill, with its rough-hewn wood and in some places crumbling brick interior, fits right in with his vision of a “raw creative space.”

“This building is a great example,” Strong said. “I think it was written off by a lot of people at some point.”

Strong began his studio project last year in the rustic warehouse behind the mill, but pounced on additional space when Revival, a furniture restoration and home d├ęcor business, moved this winter.

He is already building cordons for both the warehouse and the retail space for studios, which could range from a 50-square-foot space to a 300-square-foot space, depending on each artist’s needs and the building’s layout.

He foresees monthly rents roughly ranging from $150 to $600, plus some utilities. Time-share agreements, with artists splitting the costs of a space, are also possible.

There also will be classroom space, a photography studio and potentially a small theater and movie production studio, if his hopes of eventually expanding to the full warehouse complex pan out.

So far, he said, he is close to signing rental agreements with four artists. The aim of the shared studio space is to allow artists to bounce ideas off each other.

“What we’re trying to create is something for our community and something of our community,” Strong said. “These artists are from here. They are part of our community. This is a space where they can be creative and collaborative.”

Strong hopes to promote Native American art through the affordable studio space, but he stresses the space is not exclusively for Native artists.

“Native art has always been looked at as a separate theme. We’re just trying to say Native art will be in the same conversation with (other) art,” he said. “We think that will lead to more conversation and more cultural dialogue, which I think we all agree is needed in the community.”

A new tenant already in the old Revival space is the Rapid City office for Black Hills Playhouse.

Executive Director Linda Kern Anderson moved the office in January from a basement location behind the Mount Rushmore Road Safeway store.

She said roughly 50 percent of the audience for the Playhouse’s popular summer theater in Custer State Park come from Rapid City. Tickets will be available from a box office at the Rapid City office.

“When this space opened up,” Anderson said, “it created a really good opportunity for us.”

“We are really looking forward to the ability to collaborate and be involved more with Native American artists,” she said.

Both Strong and Anderson say they will benefit from their next-door neighbors.

“At Home Design and Barefoot Dance Studio create this micro-ecosystem here to really support all these layers of creativity,” Strong said.

Strong hopes the proximity to Main Street Square and exposure to summer and year-round tourist traffic will help promote Native American and other art.

“We’re really focused on supporting the artists, supporting their growth and inspiration, and if we do that people will want to come see it and interact with those artists,” Strong said. “If they are doing well and are able to pay their rent, then we all succeed.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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