Community Outreach Spotlight
Partnering to Make Purposeful Art
Submitted by Brendyn Medina, community relations specialist with the Rapid City, South Dakota, Police Department.
Rapid City, South Dakota, long has housed a landmark of artistic and cultural significance. Affectionately dubbed “Art Alley,” this piece of living canvas is nestled in the heart of the city’s vibrant downtown. For decades, the face of Art Alley has changed regularly as local artists showcase their talent on the walls of a thoroughfare almost as old as Rapid City itself.
For Rapid City Police Department (RCPD) senior officer Eric Dwyer, the location always proves a source of inspiration when he patrols the downtown area. Occasionally, he runs into artists as they work in the alley. A recent chance encounter between Officer Dwyer and local Native American artist Derek “Focus” Smith led to a partnership between RCPD and some of the city’s Native American youths.
Smith serves as the community engagement coordinator for Rapid City’s Dahl Arts Center. He is involved in a variety of community-based programs and spends a great deal of his time teaching youths the artistic value of graffiti. Smith introduced Officer Dwyer to a group of Native American students learning skills through a program called Youth Voices in Prevention (Youth VIP).
The students, overseen by Youth VIP coordinator Ramona Herrington, already engage in art projects that bring awareness to serious issues in the community. They showed interest in collaborating with RCPD to create a mural addressing domestic violence.
“That was our purpose,” said Herrington, “to build a relationship with our youth[s] that we have in our groups and every youth, actually, so that they don’t feel uncomfortable going to [the police] or [relating with] them.”1
For Officer Dwyer, who also serves as a school liaison officer for Rapid City High School, it was a wonderful opportunity to engage with these high school students and show them that police are there to help in any given situation. Officer Dwyer worked with the students to come up with a rough concept of what they wanted the mural to look like. In the meantime, he and Smith collaborated with the owners of a local jewelry store, who graciously contributed one of their Art Alley walls as a space for the mural.
Smith began the prep work for the mural, applying a coat of dark blue paint to provide the backdrop. As the students, Smith, and Officer Dwyer applied spray paint, the black silhouette of a police officer standing in the rain started to emerge. However, the officer would not serve as the ultimate focal point. Vibrant colors of a young Lakota girl dancing in traditional dress take center stage of the piece. The officer holds an umbrella, which protects the girl as she dances in the rain. The word “community” is painted in large purple letters to the right of the officer, while a purple domestic violence ribbon and the word “together,” in red, are featured to the girl’s left.
Understanding that the interpretation of any art piece should be left to the viewer, Youth VIP students made it clear that they wanted to portray the selfless service of law enforcement officers in protecting families from domestic violence situations. RCPD officers see themselves as guardians in each and every interaction they have as they serve their city.
RCPD is thankful for the chance to partner with the city’s youths and always will take a seat at the table when there is an opportunity to make the community a better place.
For additional information, Mr. Medina can be reached at Brendyn.Medina@rcgov.org.
1 Sydney Thorson, “Art Alley Gained a New Mural with a Message,” KELOLAND.com, August 22, 2019, accessed October 8, 2019, https://www.keloland.com/news/local-news/art-alley-gained-a-new-mural-with-a-message.