When 23-year-old local tribal member Greg Bryan Jr. went missing in 2009, many members of the Paiute community were shaken. Bryan’s cousin and peer, Kris Hohag, is convinced the series of events leading up to Bryan’s disappearance was a byproduct of limited positive resources and outlets for young adults in the community.
Bryan was a gifted musician, demonstrating his talents through writing, performing and producing music.
“His lyrics were so smart,” Hohag said. “He was always writing about things that were over people’s heads.”
Although Bryan was talented, Hohag said he didn’t have the financial means to equip himself with the necessary resources to record the quality of music he was capable of producing. To earn enough money to buy equipment, Bryan allegedly became involved with the cannabis industry. Although not proven, some think his disappearance was linked to the trade.
Inspired by Bryan’s experience, Hohag said he believes that by providing creative outlets for youth and young adults, future cases like this might be avoided. In hopes of turning this idea into reality, last year Wünüt’, a grassroots all-volunteer collective, spearheaded the creation of Wünüt Novi, a new media arts center for youth.
“In the community, there aren’t a lot of programs that target youth,” said 15-year-old Raquel Anakalea. “We’re trying to bridge that.”
Although located on the reservation in Bishop, the center is open to non-native members of the community. Hohag said he hopes the center will become a place where youth feel comfortable to come, hang out, be creative, learn new skills, attend workshops and pursue their goals.
“The number one thing youth need is a positive place to go and hangout because the number one thing they suffer from is boredom, which can lead to substance and alcohol abuse,” Hohag said.
The name for the center, Wünüt Novi, roughly translates to “Standing House,” based on the word wünüt, which means “stand up” in the Paiute language.
Last year, Wünüt was able to secure the former Elders Building to convert it into an appealing venue for youth. Although the transformation of the building is still in flux, the center already has an inviting feel.
Using the artistic talents of local youth, Wünüt Novi now has a colorful display of murals, native designs, inspirational quotes and graffiti art that decorate the inside walls of the building. It seems that almost every surface in the center is aimed to inspire with messages like, “Be Fearless, Be Strong.” The boys’ and girls’ bathrooms are even custom-decorated to express each gender’s unique style. One stall of the boys’ restroom displays the message, “Please do tell: what would u do if u could not fail?” The girls’ restroom welcomes visitors with a big “You’re Beautiful” painted across one wall.
“It was our own space to do whatever we wanted to do,” Anakalea said.
The goal is to acquire enough resources to make Wünüt Novi a place where youth and young adults can get involved with performing and recording music, publishing a youth magazine or newspaper, starting a community/youth radio program, and tackling other digital media projects that use film and photography.
The problem is that in order for youth to have access to these projects, the center needs more funding through donations, grants and fundraising. Wünüt Novi has received some donated music equipment, couches, a washer and dryer, a stove and refrigerator and other miscellaneous supplies. Wünüt raised enough money last year to buy paints for decorating. While Hohag is thankful for the donations the center has received, he said he hopes to find ways to acquire more up-to-date technology and equipment for youth to use for their projects.
“We’re a story-telling culture, so let’s tell stories using the media of today,” Hohag said. The list of goals for Wünüt Novi is long and ambitious, but the hope is that the development of the center will be a long-term, ongoing process. If all goes according to plan, eventually Wünüt Novi will give youth access to cultural workshops, language classes, free film screenings, live music shows, a music rehearsal space, a marketplace for local artisans/musicians and a lending library of alternative media (magazine, CDs and DVDs). Other prospective ideas for the space include hosting discussion groups and wellness classes and activities.
For now, the center is being used as a space for youth to hang out and work on homework on Sundays between 4 and 8 p.m., and Pilates and Zumba classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5–7 p.m. The goal is for the center to stay open every day after school once Wünüt Novi has regular projects and funding.
Hohag said he hopes the community will get more involved with Wünüt Novi as more of the details start falling into place. One project he said could use community-wide participation is the design and execution of a mural for the building’s large empty wall that faces Diaz Lane. Hohag said the white space is perfect for a mural with a design that encompasses the whole community.
“Everybody drives by it,” Hohag said. “So we want it to be inclusive of everyone, inclusive of its history—to acknowledge that it was the Elders Building before Wünüt’ Novi. It’s coming full circle because now it’s taking on a new identity. Plus, we are in great need of more public art.”
On February 24 the group held its first official event, an Open House Mixer, at which community members saw the progress for themselves and learned more about the vision for Wünüt Novi.
Author Sherman Alexie was there and spoke afterward at the Barlow Gym as part of the Community Reads Program sponsored by the local tribes, Owens Valley Career Development Center and the Inyo County Superintendent of Schools.
Wünüt Novi’s multimedia wish list includes: laptops, a large TV or projector, video and music recording and editing software, cameras (video/SLR digital), instruments, a P.A. system, art supplies and microphones.
To get involved with the Wünüt Novi project, contact Kris Hohag at firstname.lastname@example.org.