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Seeking Racial Justice through Artistic Expression

George Floyd murals, such as this one in Milwaukee, have surfaced across the globe following protests over his killing by Minneapolis police. (Graham Kilmer)
George Floyd murals, such as this one in Milwaukee, have surfaced across the globe following protests over his killing by Minneapolis police. (Graham Kilmer)
June 10, 2020

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- From middle America to Europe, murals have popped up in honor of George Floyd amid the renewed fight for racial justice. In South Dakota, there are parallels to other works that call attention to the issues of systemic racism.

Jim Speirs, executive director of the group Arts South Dakota, said the George Floyd paintings remind him of exhibits highlighting the massacre at Wounded Knee and the treaty at Fort Laramie.

"Both of those topics are are sensitive and difficult topics to discuss in South Dakota, because it's kind of a black eye on our past, in this state," he said, "and it's through art that these conversations can continue."

Those exhibits were led by the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies on the Pine Ridge Reservation. While not many public displays have surfaced yet in South Dakota related to Floyd, Speirs said he believes that will change. He said it's only a matter of time before local artists find inspiration from the global movement and make their voices heard through their art.

Speirs said he sees some funding gaps for artists in South Dakota, although he said the state does a solid job in distributing the money it does have so that more people can create works that inspire conversation about serious topics.

"There's certainly gaps in our work," he said, "but I think as far as a state with with minimal resources, I think we've done a good job of being stewards of the dollars."

State data show that 89% of South Dakota counties received an arts grant of some form during the recent funding cycle, including tribal areas.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD