By Li Boyd Mille Lacs Band Member
The vibrant Twin Cities art scene featured two Mille Lacs Band members this February, and they both made brilliant debuts.
Leah Lemm is a musical artist and performed at the Cedar Cultural Center as part of the Cedar Commissions through a grant from the Jerome Foundation. The Cedar Commissions is a program for emerging local musicians and has helped develop nearly 40 new artists since the program began.
Dino Downwind, a photographer, was recruited by the independent arts organization RAW to participate in the Envision show at the Pourhouse in downtown Minneapolis. RAW holds regular one-night showcases in 70 cities worldwide and hand-picks local artists for each event.
Leah is a lifelong musician, starting with childhood music lessons that led to professional music study in college. She was competitive as a violinist until a shoulder injury made it too difficult to play the instrument anymore. Thankfully, Leah still had piano to fall back on and began to explore singing. She studied music production and engineering along with voice at the Berklee College of Music where she started songwriting. Leah says she was motivated to write her own music to create songs that would work better for her voice range. She sang in a cappella groups in college, too, laughingly reporting that the type of competitions depicted in the movie Pitch Perfect are “legit.”
Leah recently studied poetry through the Institute of American Indian Arts and became intrigued by the literary discussion surrounding Indigenous apocalypse. Despite how it sounds, the concept highlights Indigenous resilience and survival through the idea that our world has already ended several times over, yet we are still here. Anything going forward – whether it’s political, social, or environmental – is just another catastrophe through which Indigenous people will prevail.
Leah won her Cedar Commission grant with a proposal to set this concept to music and created Ruins, a transformative musical landscape composed of six movements. Each movement has a different sound, from blues rock to a cappella, and is linked to the next movement through a bridge of ambient industrial sound and Morse Code. Morse Code was important to Leah as an indication of emergency but also as the unifying piece that pulls the whole set together. It leads in each song by title but also closes the last song with the statement, “The end is a new beginning.” In the end, everything comes back to the circle, ready to start again.
Ruins was performed on February 10 to a mesmerized audience. Leah’s brother Cole Premo was part of the act, playing guitar and singing, along with other Band members Mariya Vyatkina, Evan Clark, Justin Titus, and Peter Morrow. A studio recording of Ruins will be available in the future. Leah hopes, in the meantime, to find venues to play the show again.
Dino Downwind’s journey to starting Downwind Photos began in a high school photography class. The class sparked an interest that was too quickly discouraged by Dino’s peers. He put the camera down due to teasing, but the interest persisted. About eight years ago, Dino had a surplus of bulldog puppies who caught the attention of a woman passing by. She photographed the puppies and then promised she would buy one as soon as she sold her camera. A trade was made. And that’s how it all began.
With his new camera, Dino learned from friends and taught himself the tricks of the trade. He started doing product photography and work for magazines, but it wasn’t until a friend convinced him to take their engagement photos that he ventured into taking portraits. He found he liked portraits and switched to shooting people and powwows.
RAW contacted Dino after seeing his Instagram and asked him to take part in the Envision showcase. After Dino realized it wasn’t a scam and agreed to participate, RAW asked Dino to bring an Indigenous friend along to validate the content of his work. Dino assured them he wasn’t a scam; he’s a card-carrying tribal member and qualified to use his own discretion. This was a surprise to the RAW organizers, who only then realized they had the honor of hosting their first Indigenous artist.
The Envision one-night event on February 14 was a huge success with many Band and family members showing up to support Dino and view his work. Dino’s black-and-white photographs are sharp and full of so much lively detail that it’s easy to get lost in the picture, even when there’s only one subject. His selectively colorized shots seem to highlight the gifts his subjects carry with them, allowing the viewer to recognize that there’s something in technicolor inside everyone. Dino’s online album is available at www.rawartists.org/downwindphotos.
Dino has some wisdom to pass along: “Do what you love to do.” He stresses that people shouldn’t let anyone belittle them or make them feel bad about their passions and talents. “If I would have kept going in high school, I would have probably made a career, a living, out of this already,” Dino says.
For now, Downwind Photos is growing steady and true.