Peter is one of our Trailblazers and runs Racing Magpie, a local art studio in Rapid City.
City: Rapid City, South Dakota
Who is your community? This may be a group of friends, organization of affinity or a geographic location.
My community has several interconnected layers: I count all Native artists, non-Native artists in West River SD and also both Rapid City and the three reservations near here (Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River) as part of my community.
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.
An average day is really not to be found with a startup business in our first 6 months of operation. I am the only full-time employee, so I can be found doing everything from engaging in high-level partnership meetings to pushing forward community projects and leading consulting contracts to welcoming visitors to the space to cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash. I spend quite a bit of time lining up and marketing artist classes and workshops, and my favorite role of meeting artists, learning more about them, and finding how best to connect them in some way to further the goals of improving and better connecting our community.
What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?
The challenge of our new community arts space is definitely one I seek to overcome, but the most important is to make sure that my two sons can walk freely in our community and be proud of being Lakota and not worry about mistreatment or unequal treatment.
If you could do any job, what would you do and why?
Truly, our business is on track to become the kind of place where community, arts and culture come together in an incredible synergy. To be in a position to pave the way for community growth through the arts is what I crave. My two sons (18 and 6) are always at the forefront of my mind as I strive to create a better community where they can live in an equitable and safe place.
What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?
I believe that art and creativity produce safe spaces where people can have meaningful dialogue among disparate groups and individuals. While quite a bit of progress has been made in healing cultural wounds and barriers, there is a considerable population of artists and creative people in our region who I believe are capable of leading the way to a more equitable and celebratory community.
At what intersection do you live your life?
I live at the intersection of culture and community.
Where do you think good ideas come from?
Good ideas are all around us. On an individual level, they often come from thoughtfulness and introspection/self reflection. On a community level, they come from sharing, listening and synthesizing.
What’s one current trend you think will change the world?
I am not one to follow too many trends, but I think that stepping back and focusing on uplifting your community and the people around you while being generous and supportive is always the best route to my definition of success.
What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?
Communicate your ideas well, surround yourself with amazing people and take risks – calculated and otherwise. Quality ideas will build mass and begin generating a gravity that pulls people and resources to them.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
In my recent history, it is definitely leaving quality paid positions in the nonprofit arts world and stepping out to create a startup business that is mission- and community-based.
What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
In my professional life, I look at the times where I fall short as learning opportunities, but would not call any of them complete failures. In my personal life, I have one though: without going into too much detail, I was in a very short-lived marriage that included me moving halfway across the country. As I emerged from that situation, I realized I needed to believe my intuitions, seek out truly good and positive people, and stay true to myself.
Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?
Definitely my children, but after a decade of being part of a Lakota family and community, my outlook has broadened, and I am striving to think several generations ahead in my actions and strategies.
Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?
Although he passed away a couple years ago, I would say that Wilmer Mesteth was the most connected person I have met. As a traditional culture bearer, he was connected to both traditional and more assimilated parts of the Lakota community; his heritage within the Cheyenne and Lakota tribes meant that he had familial and cultural understanding and respect in both communities; his roles as tribal historic preservation officer (volunteer) and a full-time instructor at the tribal college meant that he was passing along cultural knowledge and actively inspiring community members to treasure and preserve their vibrant, living culture. This is just a short list of the things he was active in all around the Pine Ridge community, and that long-term dedication earned him quite a bit of trust and respect.
Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?
My wife is definitely that person in my life. She is an amazing wife and mother, works as a full-time museum curator, and is my partner in our business as well. She also is a maker of the highest quality – beadwork, sewing, furniture, upholstery, graphic design, and on and on. Her ability to look at a situation, do research, create and tweak designs, and then implement spot-on solutions astonishes me every time.
Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?
I have the privilege of knowing quite a few people who work in the nonprofit sector in my region. They all want to see the community grow and improve, and throw their entire energies into focusing on their part of the puzzle. One person who stands out is Linda Anderson, currently ED of Black Hills Playhouse. When I first moved to South Dakota, she was the ED at the Rapid City Arts Council. She is an incredible administrator and fundraiser, but she is one of the first and only non-Native leaders in the area to take the time to expand her understanding and come out of her comfort zone to get to know the Native community (and be known). She is also pushing her organization to move outside of standard theater and begin diversifying programming into the community through classes, camps, and programs for diverse audiences. While the impact is yet to be fully felt, it is leadership like this that helps to bridge community divisions.
Why are you a Trailblazer?
From 2005-2013, I lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation and directed a local cultural center (permanent collection, locally sourced gift shop and exhibitions) and led a transition from being a tourism-focused attraction to become a more community-oriented and integral place for the local community. My team added interactive exhibitions, piloted a museum education program, and involved the community in our strategic planning process.
After working for a national Native arts organization based here in Rapid City, I felt the tug to go back to filling the gaps in supporting the amazing under-appreciated population of Native and non-Native artists here in “West River” South Dakota, and created an arts business with my wife called Racing Magpie. We have been in our space for six months and now have a contemporary/modern Native art gallery, affordable studios for Native and non-Native artists (including access to framing and other equipment), and an active classroom/classes in all things art-related. Because we are building and uplifting a family and community of creatives, we are also leaving our future projects wide open to the input and inspiration of our resident artists and community members so that they will reflect changing needs and vision.
We are a Native organization that believes in supporting and connecting our entire community. Our community is experiencing serious overt and covert racism, and we believe that active participation in arts and culture is the most effective way of overcoming the ignorance, fear and anger that exists by creating a moment of neutrality and an opportunity for dialogue that can only happen when people are observing or experiencing the expression of creativity. I am not naive enough to believe that our space and programming will change our entire community in the short term. However, with a formula that includes a core set of programming, a willingness to “fear no art” and experiment, and an overarching goal of creating access for all parts of our community, I believe strongly that we are actively creating a better place to live where my two Lakota sons can proudly walk through life without fear of backlash.
What project do you plan to focus on as part of the Trailblazers Program?
Racing Magpie is at its core about creating access in the arts to all different groups of people. Whether it is affordable studios or a daily membership program for local artists, high-quality artist led classes, or the Native gallery, we strive to make connections regardless of culture or financial restraints. We have strength in numbers and, through collaboration and the building of an internal community, we are all focused on producing more art and being positive impacts on our community.
With a focus on access, I would like to take this opportunity to design and seed a scholarship fund that will target youth from Rapid City and the surrounding reservations, as well as local artists who can demonstrate need and/or status as an “emerging” professional who is in need of subsidy for renting a studio. We are even hoping to create and provide a visiting artist residency program through these efforts as we grow. With the support of Black Hills Playhouse, an arts nonprofit whose offices are in our building, we will be able to establish a fund that we will be able to grow with the help of donations from around the community and the region.
What change / advancement do you hope to achieve as part of the Trailblazers Program?
Our community has a lot going for it, but the racism and separation that exist here impact our children and families in a very negative way. By bringing together people of all backgrounds around art and minimizing financial barriers, we believe that we will weaken those obstructions, raise cultural and artistic appreciation and play an integral role in the overall positive transition in our community. Students and artists will have access to additional opportunities, which will increase inspiration and motivation, resulting in an explosion of inclusive creative expression.
The Trailblazers program is sponsored by Midco®, the regional provider of business and residential internet and networking, cable TV, phone and commercial IT services.