The Shift: Sharing the Arts Across South Dakota

Posted by Heather Benson on

Arts South Dakota is a statewide arts service and advocacy organization headquartered in Sioux Falls, and they work with artists in our largest cities, on reservations, and in our smallest towns. Jim Speirs is Executive Director. He's on an arts road trip this month and joined us from the road in Rapid City. 

Interview Highlights:

About the Arts Road Trip:

I am actually sitting outside on a beautiful blue sky, Black Hills day, right outside The Dahl right now, talking to you, so we're in Rapids today, Spearfish tomorrow, and this week we've been to Pierre, Eagle Butte, and Pine Ridge. This is only the first half of our tour. This week, we wrap it up in Spearfish. Then we have a week off, and then the following week we go to Aberdeen and Watertown, Yankton, Sioux Falls. We have nine communities, basically, in ten days. We're busy. We're trying to get out and talk to as many people as possible across the state.

(Our) purpose is to do a lot of listening. Ultimately, the South Dakota Arts Council, along with Arts South Dakota, we will be working on a three-year strategic plan that will be initiated, executed starting next year. We want to learn what the needs are. How the arts are playing a role in each community. What areas that we can serve. How can we help? How can we play a role as a service organization? Certainly the Arts Council is the primary funder of the Arts in South Dakota, so they're learning how to best use the funds that they receive from the state and from the NEA to support the arts community across the state.

On what Arts South Dakota has learned on the road trip:

I think we're learning that the arts, in each of these towns, play a vital role. They have a strong support group, a very close-knit network, but there's some people missing. I think we want to try to expand our audience. There's folks that are missing at the table.

One of the things we're learning is that, in some communities, the arts leaders are very integrated and play a key role in city planning and economic development. They work with the CVBs and the city councils. In other communities, they don't. How can we make those connections?

Certainly, we're learning that artists need more opportunities to sell their wares, to perform their talents. That will always be a struggle, but, I think, in South Dakota, with the distance factor...You know, we're a very spread-out state, small population. How can we connect communities more? How can we create some connective tissue, some infrastructure between some of our towns that are very isolated.

We're also learning, Cara, that some great things are happening. Things I've heard about but maybe didn't know as much about. One of those up in Eagle Butte, the Cheyenne River Youth Project. Many people have heard about that organization. One of the events they do is the Red Can Graffiti Jam. I think this will be year three of that project. We had an opportunity on Monday to tour Eagle Butte and could see all the amazing graffiti artworks that are on buildings throughout town. It's just neat to see how that community has embraced that art form. Artists, graffiti artists from across the world, frankly. They get people from other countries that have come in to participate. It's a real destination for about a week in the middle of the summer.

Those are some things that are happening that I think a lot of South Dakotans probably don't know about. We should all go up there and check it out, because it's a pretty cool deal.

On the role the arts play in economic development:

Well, there's several things...You know, this is a national observation, but it definitely holds true in South Dakota. The arts bring jobs to communities. Not just art jobs, creative industry jobs, but people want to move to communities that are creative, that have the arts. When it comes to employee recruitment and job retention, having a strong arts culture is very important.

I remember that way back when I worked at the Pavilion, way back when it first opened, I was on the staff of the Washington Pavilion...when companies would be bringing recruits to town for new positions, they'd bring them to the Pavilion, because they wanted to show people that, hey, here in Sioux Falls we have this beautiful arts facility that you can enjoy when you're part of our community. It's definitely an attraction for companies, for employees, for, frankly, making a better community, right? For making a place feel like home, that's very important.

We can just look at a place, again, that I'm familiar with, like downtown Sioux Falls. Look what happened when the Washington Pavilion was built. Look what happened when Sculpture Walk went in. A lot more people spent time downtown. It's attracting people downtown that not only go to these events, but they're eating dinner. They're staying overnight. They're obviously buying tickets to the events, but then they're doing some shopping, you know? And strolling around town and taking part in other opportunities within our community, but it's fueled by that desire to go and experience an art event.

On the future of the arts in South Dakota:

I think rising tides rise all boats, that phrase, and that. I think a healthy and vibrant arts community, that I think starts, oftentimes, in the more metropolitan areas, just reverberates throughout our state. You're seeing that.

Again, Cheyenne River Youth Project's a great example. That's a very recent development, and they're doing great things.

Another thing you could think about is, you know, when's the last time you made a trip halfway across the state just to visit a rest area? I was thinking about that, today... I've never done that. I've never heard of anybody doing that. But, you know, since Dignity, the Dale Lamphere statue, was unveiled last fall, I've heard more people say, "Yeah, I made a trip to Chamberlain, to that rest area, just to see that statue.

That gives you a sense of how the arts can draw people into communities, whether they're small towns like Eagle Butte, large communities like Sioux Falls or Rapids City, or rest areas along the interstate. I think it is equal opportunity. I don't think we're really stealing from one to fuel the other.

Listen to the entire conversation here.