Central Wyoming College is reaching out to local Wind River Indian Reservation artists in an effort to help them develop their entrepreneurial skills.
Scholarships were locked in to allow eight students to participate in the Native American Arts Entrepreneurship Program with Lynne McAuliffe, dean of business, technical and workforce at CWC.
"My role is to help them take what they already know and produce it and get it to market," McAuliffe said.
The class, which started in early May and ends Sept. 8, is using the Aug. 21 eclipse event as a focal point for learning, McAuliffe said. As Fremont County celebrates the rare event with an expected influx of tourists, McAuliffe said it will be a good time for students to showcase their talents and make sales.
Overall, however, the class is intended to give students a long-term channel for distribution of their products, she added.
"This is an avenue to build a pipeline and to get folks here on the reservation thinking about their market," she said. "I believe there's incredible talent here."
Letitia Black registered for the class in hopes of getting the motivation needed to establish a business. For a long time, Black has been making children's powwow dancing outfits and bead work.
"I want to get to the next level," she said. "I need to do this."
Black wants to expand her business and has the specific idea of creating outfit kits. She's also working on a studio at her home so she can have her own space for her projects. Ultimately, Black would like to teach her children how to run the business. One big connection was quickly established at the beginning of the class: McAuliffe announced that the students in the class now had memberships until the end of the year for Maker Space 307. As program directors describe it, Maker Space is an art studio, STEM lab and business incubator with equipment and space that can be used to launch creative ideas, inventions and small businesses.
Mikala SunRhodes works for the Wind River Hotel and Casino, developing their website, windrivernativegifts.com. The wholesale site offers beadwork, traditional crafts, jewelry, textiles and fine arts made exclusively by artists from the reservation.
"This class will not only give me tools for myself but also help the artists that I work with," she said. "This helps them better get their stuff out."
SunRhodes has been beading since an early age as well. As she got older, she developed her own style and grew to enjoy it tremendously. Her brother, Jared SunRhodes, is also taking the CWC class. He specializes in ledger art, or drawings on paper or cloth.
"Art has been part of my life even before I could really understand what art was," he said.
He grew up seeing his family do ledger art at a very young age; he didn't yet understand the significance of the work.
"I thought it was stuff for use...needed items," he said.
As he got older, he learned the importance of the pieces and understood why the person making them was choosing to use specific colors or stories. He recognized the depth of the piece and learned to immerse himself in his stories through his art.
He said his ledger art is a form of record-keeping for memories he feels he needs to "put down somewhere."
"I can't let it die," he said.
Jared also makes dancing regalia. He hopes the class helps him expand his skill and be a better seller.
"They care very deeply about their roots," she said. "But they want to use contemporary designs, so it's kind of like bringing the past into the future."
McAuliffe said she spotted a resurgence in the local art scene: Younger generations have a renewed interest in their traditional art, and there's a "whole new audience" for it, she explained.
"The timing is really good for all of this," McAuliffe said.
The passion for their art will be their motivator, and along the way they'll look into why it's important to them and why they want to make a business out of it. They're not writing a business plan but will learn the skills that go into a business plan, she said.
"I think this is one of the most exciting projects I've worked on here at the college," McAuliffe said.
They'll learn how to price and promote items and will make useful connections. They'll create brochures, write biographical profiles of themselves, contact potential retailers, and develop long-term plans for their work. They will also work toward selling their pieces at specific events during the eclipse. The students will receive college credit as well.
There will be an art show and sale at the culmination of the class at the CWC Intertribal Education and Community Center.