The Event of the Century: Standing Strong for Our Precious Water


The Standing Strong for Our Precious Water Art Exhibit and Concert Benefit for Standing Rock took place this past Friday at AICHO Galleries and was an amazing success.  400+ people showed up, raising a preliminary estimate of above $7,000 for Standing Rock water protectors and Honor the Earth (and that number continues to rise as more artwork is purchased over the course of the next month). The evening featured artwork by roughly 100 different visual artists, with musical performances by Annie Humphrey, Keith Secola, Jamie Labrador, #theindianheadband, Oshkii Giizhik Singers, Jake Vainio, and Richie Townsend.

Standing Strong for Our Precious Water was not just a fundraiser — it was the manifestation of a greater movement by artists, activists and indigenous people alike! Ivy Vainio touted it as the “Event of the Century” with many guests and artists expressing similar sentiments. The energy was high as soon as the doors opened ta 5 p.m., with the event finally dying down roughly 4 1/2 hours later at 9:30 p.m. Standing Strong for Our Precious Water was one of AICHO Galleries’ largest exhibits to date — every public room on the main floor of the Gimaajii building was brimming with artwork by a variety of incredible artists.

Steve Premo signs T-shirts

Artist Steve Premo signs t-shirts featuring his artwork. 100% of the proceeds from these shirts goes to benefit water protectors in North Dakota.


400+ people poured into the Gimaajii Building, exploring both art galleries, the main lobby, and Trepanier Hall.  There was standing room only!

It almost seems like forever since I’ve been a part of organizing an evening so incredible as this. People from every corner of the community stopped in to take part. Artwork and merchandise was selling nonstop. Families came came down from their residences upstairs to check out everything that was happening. There was food and music, meaningful dialogue and conversations — and even with the chaos of having such a large amount of people packed into one space, the evening still evoked a sense of harmony.

There are a few aspects of this exhibit that I personally would characterize as unique; the first is its subject matter. This was an opportunity for artists to actively get involved in making a difference for a cause they believe in. Across Indian Country, artists have been inspired by the events taking place at Standing Rock and by efforts being made to increase awareness of indigenous issues.

Our voice has been silenced for centuries and is just now regaining its volume, and the arts have been our megaphone, so to speak. Creative mediums allow us to bring visibility to our struggles and our triumphs; they allow all of us that remain to combat the notion that native people are an expired race. They allow us to reconnect with each other and to begin to heal, all the while creating new traditions in the ways of technique and storytelling.


Painter Carl Gawboy admiring Ivy Vainio’s powerful photograph. Photo by Ivy Vainio.

The exhibit was also unique in how it was organized. It provided a positive outlet for visual artists. During most fundraisers, artists are expected to create work (to donate time) and then sell their work with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting the cause at hand. While this is a noble contribution for artists to make, not many people realize that this sort of fundraising constitutes the majority of work artists are expected to take on for “exposure.” In the case of the Standing Strong exhibit, artists were allowed to choose which percentage of the price they would contribute to Standing Rock, with AICHO Galleries adding 30 percent whenever the cost wasn’t listed. A large portion of artists chose to donate 50 to 100 percent of the proceeds, but giving them the option was our way of respecting their time and efforts. Many artists can’t continue to create meaningful work if the most accessible outlets are also the ones that expect them to work for free.

This is not to knock the dominant silent auction/fundraising model at all — it is effective at raising money! I just found it reassuring that we, at AICHO, were able to minimally impact the price of work while still simultaneously surpassing our fundraising expectations and supporting the artist community! It’s something to think about. Artists are the voices of our times, and there is certainly a market for quality artwork in our region; I think that, whenever there is an opportunity to support both a cause and our visual artists, we should take advantage of it to its full capacity. These opportunities can be life-changing for everyone who gets involved.

So what now?

Although the Keystone pipeline permit was recently denied at Standing Rock (courtesy of the hard work of water protectors), according to John Bigelow, “the lights are still on, and the helicopters are still buzzing overhead. Until we can go to the drill pad and see they’ve left – this is not over.” Before our event, I’d contacted the NoDAPL Global Solidarity Team regarding this matter and our fundraiser, and they responded with the following:

The fight is far from over. Police and DAPL are still on scene, haven’t stopped the surveillance planes and choppers, haven’t left their positions, haven’t even turned off their giant flood lamps at night. They have stated their intention to build this pipeline in this location even after the Corps’s announcement. This fight is not over. The front lines need your support.

Proceeds from our event will go directly to the camps in North Dakota. They will also be donated to Winona Laduke’s organization, Honor the Earth.

As I struggled with foggy head this morning, having caught whatever cold is going around this season, I couldn’t help but smile when I came into work today. Artwork from the exhibit will still be on sale and display for the next month or so, and the public is welcome to stop in any time and check out the amazing work! I’m in love with all of the artwork that is up and I feel so fortunate to do work for a place that’s making history, one exhibit at a time.


Paper artist Ellen Sandbeck looking at a painting by Moira Villiard. Photo by Ivy Vainio.


Oshkii Giizhik singers. Photo by Ivy Vainio.


The room was full during every musical performance, with lines of listening extending out into the hallways. Pictured here, singer Jamie Labrador serenades the crowd. Photo by Ivy Vainio.


Merchandise by Steve Premo. Photo by Ivy Vainio.


Artwork by Carolyn Sue Olson, Vern Northrup and Lucas Reynolds. Photo by Ivy Vainio.


Janet McTavish’s Standing Strong quilt was a highlight of the show! It features thousands of tiny photographs making up one huge image. Photo by Ivy Vainio.


Musician Annie Humphrey. Photo by Ivy Vainio.

Visual Artists who contributed: Adam McCauley, Adam Swanson, Alberta Marana, Allison Aune, Amethyst Harle, Angela Haworth, Ann Klefstadt, Beth LaPensee, Bill Deroche, Brenda Brousseau, Brian Barber, Brian Dow, Carl Gawboy, Carol Isaac, Carolyn Sue Olson, Catherine Meier, Charles Nahgahnub, Chelsey Miller, Chholing Taha, Chris Monroe,  Chris Monroe, Corinne Stone, Daniell Laporte, David Jensen, Deb Yam, Derek Jennings, Diana Fairbanks, Duane Pou Part, Ed Newman, Elizabeth Snow, Ellen Sandbeck, Emily Ward, Frank Big Bear, Gordon Coons, Haylee Goranson, Heidi Blunt, Hillary Kempenich, Ivy Vainio, Jackie Traverse, Jacob Wayne Bryner, Jami Holder, Janet McTavish, Jasmine Raskas, Javier Lara-Ruiz, Jeff Savage, Jennifer Silverness, Jes Durfee, Jim Denomie, Jolane Sundstrom, Jonathan Thunder, Joshua Ebert, Joyce Laporte, Karen Kramer, Karen McCall, Karen McTavish, Karen Savage Blue, Ken Bloom, Kirsten Aune, Kris Simonson, Kym Young, Larissa Greensky, Laurel Saunders, Leah Yellowbird, Lisa Kosano, Linda Riddle, Lynn Watson, Maraya Sandy, Marcus Mosiah Brown, Marlene Wisuri, Martin Dewitt, Mary Plaster, Matthew Landry, Michelle Defoe, Michael Tondryck, Moira Villiard, Montana Picard, Patricia Gardner, Phillip Isaac, Rabbett Strickland, Rachel Burroughs, Rachel Weizenegger, Randi Omdahl, Raymond Allard, Renan Cruz, RJ Musolf, Sarah Howes, Slats Fairbanks, Sterling Rathsack, Steve Premo, Teresa Cox Kolar, Tommy Kronquist, Vern Northrup, Wendy Savage (curator), and more.


Funding for AICHO’s arts programming provided by:

McK_logoStackPrintLegacy Logo ColorFinal Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 1.35.35 PM



about 7 years ago

Hmmmmm.... I wonder how many people drove cars to the event? How many then returned to their heated homes? Was the event climate controlled? Was everything lit by candles? How much did Warren Buffet donate to keep his railroad busy?

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Joel, I don't suppose you'd mind if I stopped by your home today and defecated on your dining room table. I mean, you are a human being who discharges food waste, so it's OK, right? You're not a hypocrite who objects to other people defecating wherever they want, are you?

Or could it be that energy and clean water issues are slightly more complex than that? Well, then I guess I apologize for my hyperbolic and indelicate analogy.

Dave Sorensen

about 7 years ago

So, Joel, if we use oil we can't demand that it not threaten our water? Anyone who uses anything produced by our unsustainable system can't demand a better system, without being a hypocrite? I'll just hop on the electric public transportation and catch a ride out to Standing Rock. No, wait. A few decades ago the mining industry was dumping asbestos-laden waste directly into Lake Superior. Maybe everyone who relied on steel in any way should have just shut-the-hell up. Now a distant corporation, for whom job creation is not the least bit important, wants to bring copper-sulphide mining, for which there is no successful prior example, next-door to the Boundary Waters. If you use copper, just shut up. And of course the trump card, so to speak, the way to put a populist gloss on an elitist agenda, is to promise jobs, no matter how temporary or destructive. I support unions and think we need more of them, but I sure wish they'd evolve an environmental conscience. At public hearings for pipelines you can see their leaders hob-knobbing with the Chamber of Commerce people who would bust their unions in a heartbeat, if they had a chance. A copper mine will produce jobs, but what about all the tourism-related jobs that depend on a pristine Boundary Waters, the most-visited wilderness in the United States? People on the Iron Range want jobs, but I doubt they care whether they're mining jobs or not.  How about some solar-panel factories? Wind turbine factories? Hemp paper mills? Electric car parts factories? Oh, but I just typed this on a computer powered by coal-generated electricity, so I'll just shut up, let the planet be fracked, and enjoy the poison water while I can.

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