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Artist realizes dream

RAPID CITY, S.D. ? Dreams do come true. Artist Tim Audiss is living proof.

He will soon open an art gallery fulfilling his dream to become a professional artist and earn a living at what he loves to do.

'I could do art as a hobby or to make a living. I was given a chance to make a living at art,' he said.

Audiss is a Lakota, member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He spent the past 15 years selling his artworks to collectors and tourists through a broker. His earning was a small percentage of the profit he could make by selling his work directly to collectors.

His choice was to go back to brick laying and keep his art as a hobby, or to go into the art business 'full force.' He said he had no skills in running a business, yet he knew the only way to make it was to go out on his own.

Otherwise, he said, 'I would have been stuck selling my work wholesale at art shows.'

Then along came First People's Fund. The South Dakota organization matches an artist with a mentor, sets business goals and makes the artist follow those goals through an education period. It then helps launch the artist into a full-time career. The program selects fellows who are serious artists, serious about hard work and determined to follow the spiritual and cultural life of their tribes.

Audiss was one of four Emerging Artist Fellows. The others were Donna Owen Carey of the Santo Domingo Pueblo, Kevin Hope, Blackfeet and Marshall Burnette, Rosebud Sioux.

Audiss said he turned to his spirituality to guide his life and his art. He creates buffalo hide drawings and ledgers, paints on buffalo skulls and uses a variety of artistic skills and knowledge to create works that cover many mediums. He said that he works in the old traditional style and that his work is recognizable by collectors across the country.

'In the days of our forefathers, art, crafts and creative expression were not a separate part of our daily life. It was an intricate part of the individual, society, religious and social tribal organizations,' Audiss said. 'These life-ways were passed down from generation to generation even to this day.'

He said he knew his art was very marketable, but he needed business skills, like keeping records and establishing budgets and marketing. The First People's Fund helped in the yearlong fellowship program.

'Everything they did was perfect,' he said.

Audiss will make his new gallery available to other artists and will sell their work on consignment in the beginning. With the help of the First People's Fund, he was able to secure a prime location in downtown Rapid City, one block away from a large store that sells American Indian art and next to a popular historic hotel that also has an gift shop with American Indian items. Neither is owned by American Indians.

He said he received help from the previous occupants of the building and from other businesses in the area. There are few Indian-owned businesses in Rapid City's downtown, but the list is growing. Around the corner is a drum shop that is Indian-owned.

Fellows chosen to participate in the First People's Fund program are given a small stipend, a new computer and advice and classes that are equal to a master's degree in business. They spend the better part of a year learning business-plan writing, economics, record keeping and other valuable skills like marketing.

The spirituality, culture and traditions of American Indian life form the basis for the classes.

'First People's Fund chooses its fellows, mentors and advisors for their commitment to sustaining the cultural values of native people,' the fund states.

The program seeks to find artists who are self-motivated and self-disciplined, with a desire to pursue art as a business. They are given the support to develop skills to succeed independently with the help of the resources of the program.

Audiss and other artists who received fellowships were given the opportunity to work with advisors and a mentor to establish a workable business plan. The artist starts with $4,800, a computer and $20 a month in phone expenses. Upon completion of the one-year program the artist can apply for a $10,000 loan from the Blackfeet Reservation Development Fund, of which 25 percent is an outright grant.

Audiss has additional help with his gallery because of his large family. He is the father of 10 children, eight of whom live at home. The older children plan to help around the gallery, he said, adding that the younger ones will probably be visible also.

One of his daughters does beadwork; another works with clay. He is dedicated to children, not just his own, but has plans to give space in the gallery for youth art, which will be for sale at a full profit for the artist.

The only art that will be sold in the gallery will be American Indian-made.

And as for Audiss, he will have to keep creating his work to keep the gallery supplied. He said he sold two buffalo hides just recently and will have to replace those very soon.

'I continue to look for new ways to express myself. I'm always looking for something new,' he said, while all the time keeping to the traditional style.

'Brokers and collectors would rather buy from a Native American artist through a Native American-owned business. I will have the highest consignment percentage for the artist in the area. It will be 70 to 30 percent as long as I can make the business go.'

Audiss' gallery will allow reservation artists to bring their work to a location that will have high traffic volume in one of the primary tourist locations in the west.

'We hope to be able to sell the art at Southwest prices,' Audiss said. Art prices in the Great Plains fall behind those of the Southwest, which has had an established art market for many decades. Audiss said he hopes to be able to bring that Southwest art demand to the region.

'All artists are welcome to bring their best quality work to sell.'

The First People's Fund is on the web at www.firstpeoplesfund.org