Contributed photo — Tyler Read, a former South Whidbey resident now living in Rapid City, S.D., was one of 24 people awarded with the prestigious Bush Fellowship.

Reformed South Whidbey vandal puts graffiti to good use, wins award

Tyler Read, a former South Whidbey resident who uses his art to enhance the community of Rapid City, S.D., was recently awarded a prestigious Bush Fellowship.

The honor is given to those with “extraordinary potential” to make significant contributions in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and 23 Native nations that share the same geography, according to a press release. Since moving to Rapid City in 2004, Read employed art “as his tool to improve” the community, helped mentor youth involvement in the arts and foster “equity, empathy and shared responsibility.”

Read was one of 639 applicants and 24 finalists who were selected through a multi-stage application interview process.

Residents living on South Whidbey in the early 1990s may remember the name “Rabbit” tagged in graffiti on the sides of schools and private businesses. Read, a teenager at the time, was responsible. His intent was to express himself and urban culture through art, but not all viewed it in a positive light. He later turned himself in and took responsibility for his actions at the encouragement of his grandmother.

Read, now 40, said in a phone interview Monday morning that it was an embarrassing time for his family, but an experience that helped guide him to more positive ways of channeling his artistic efforts. After moving to Rapid City, he worked as a welder in factories and often spent 10-12 hours on the job. During his free time, he painted at a free public art space named “Art Alley.”

“The more I painted, the more I got to know the community,” Read said.

Read said graffiti art was not common in Rapid City at the time. After introducing it to the community, he taught youth how to create their own works of art. He eventually helped them work on commission projects, where the proceeds would be donated to charity. Read is now employed by the city’s art council and helps facilitate the art space.

As a Bush Fellow, Read will be provided with up to $100,000 over 12 to 24 months to pursue learning experiences that help develop leadership skills and attributes.

Read hopes to create more public arts spaces throughout the Midwest, with a focus on reservation communities.

“It’s something I want to do to help broadcast the Native American people’s voices so that they are heard,” Read said.

Contributed photo — Tyler Read’s NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) mural titled, “How the Protectors Defeated the Black Snake.”

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