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IRS auctioning off seized Native American artwork

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- Native American artwork owned by a Sioux Falls nonprofit organization has been seized by the Internal Revenue Service and will be auctioned next month, but a local coalition hopes to buy the art so it can be put on public display.

The IRS seized the 16-piece collection of artwork in September from the Washington Pavilion's Visual Arts Center, where it had been on loan for more than a decade, the media reported.

Federal tax liens filed with the Minnehaha County Register of Deeds between November 2011 and March 2012 show that the collection's owners, American Indian Services, owed the government $118,157. The IRS has put a minimum bid of $24,750 on the artwork to help satisfy those liens.

The IRS auction is set for Jan. 31. The artwork includes sculpture, beadwork, ledger art and other pieces.

When American Indian Services established the North Plains Tribal Arts show in 1988, it solicited original artwork each year and purchased it to use in marketing the art show. The collection being sold includes pieces selected in the first 16 or 17 years of the show. After American Indian Services said it would no longer sponsor the show, Sinte Gleska University took over the art show in 2004 and renamed it the Northern Plains Indian Art Market.

Tax records show that the primary function of American Indian Services is "family strengthening," including housing assistance for Native American families.

Pavilion President Larry Toll said a group has been formed from the community to raise money to bid on the collection. The group hopes to reach at the minimum bid in an attempt to buy the artwork and make it a permanent exhibit at the Pavilion, a community arts, science and entertainment organization.

Toll said the collection represents a long history in getting the Indian art market established.

"We're talking to a lot of people who have been involved with it in the past and have a warm spot in their heart for tribal art, as well as for that particular collection," Toll said.

David Merhib, director of the Pavilion's Visual Arts Center, said the collection has only been shown in its entirety at his gallery. He said being able to purchase it now would in a sense be bringing it home.

Linda Boyd, owner of the Prairie Star Gallery art store in Sioux Falls, said there are many valuable items in the collection that could push the overall collection past the minimum bid price.