Linking Fences Mural Brings Community Art to Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center

Denim fence mural at Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center

The Linking Fences 2019 installation at the Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center is finally complete. This marks the end of dozens of hours of work from 9 Artist Assistants, countless volunteers, Matthews Opera House employees, and South Dakota artist Cary A. Thrall, owner of CAT Scratch Studios in Lower Brule, SD. 

The completion of the Spearfish fence public artwork is the second of three 6-foot-tall, 24-foot -wide installations Thrall has been working on for the past few months. The other installations are located Lower Brule, SD and Lead, SD.

Thrall explained that the main goals of her Change Network project are to forge partnerships to produce more art, develop vision and build stronger communities. “By creating these works, we signify the unity of South Dakota people. We also construct stronger networks and a healthier understanding of how connected we truly are. To be vital, is to be supported.” says Thrall. She engages diverse groups with mini-lessons and material prep sessions.

Each installation is created by weaving pre-cut denim and hot air balloon fabric strips through the chain links of a fence in a prominent community area. Volunteers were needed to not only cut many strips of denim, but to weave the design that Thrall and artist assistant Annicka Gunderson had co-created. Since the project began, Thrall said over 300 people from all three communities have helped at the various community events.

The installation designs are inspired by the imagery and landscape of South Dakota from Missouri River to the Black Hills. Each public artwork is also bordered by a Lakota bead design created by Artist Assistants for the project. Each artist had open creativity to do their own designs.

While working on the installations, Thrall has brought elements of this project to audiences unable to visit the installations in person. For example, she taught an art woven heart mini-lesson with Golden Ridge Assisted Living residents in Lead. In June, Thrall had the opportunity to share the Linking Fences 2019 project and teach the same mini-lesson with students at the Canyon Hills Center in Spearfish, SD. She explained the significance of the Spearfish public artwork while also helping students weave their own paper hearts. 

“The Canyon Hills event left a mark on my memory and my heart,” Thrall shared. “I was able to, with a team from The Matthews, teach our complex mini-lesson to struggling youth. Every single person made a 3D woven heart successfully, not only the students, but staff too. What made it special for me was when one of the younger boys asked if I was coming back to teach again.” 

But it’s not just special events like the one at Canyon Hills that keeps Thrall excited about this project. Her work throughout all of Linking Fences has been a dream come true. “This is exactly the project I was hoping to do when coming home from New Mexico,” said Thrall. “Connections are how I view my world. Strengthening existing ones or offering ways to forge new ones is exciting.”

This Change Network project is generously funded by the Bush Foundation, Change Network program, and furthers work initiated by ArtCentral, which is funded through a Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grant awarded to The Matthews Opera House in 2016 as well as private sponsorships. 

Additional organizations partnering in and supporting this project include National Arts Strategies, Golden Ridge Assisted Living (Lead, SD), Lower Brule Tribe, Lower Brule Tribal School – 2nd grade, Lower Brule Boys and Girls Club, Canyon Hills Center (Spearfish, SD), The City of Lead, Lead-Deadwood Arts Council, Spearfish Rec & Aquatics Center, Christ Church Episcopal (Lead, SD), makeSPACE (Spearfish, SD) and The Quilt Shop (Spearfish, SD).

About Change Network

Change Network provides North Dakotans, South Dakotans, and the region’s 12 Native Nations with a supportive learning environment to lead more equitable and inclusive change within their organizations and communities. The year-long program assists participants in building their cultural agility, self-awareness, leadership abilities and systems-change skill sets through one-on-one work with mentors, group discussions in online learning sessions and several in-person convenings.

Participation in Change Network includes access to a $5,000 project grant to implement at your organization through the Bush Foundation.

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