ABI staff recently spoke with three arts leaders from South Dakota, who will be meeting with artists, educators and others in their state at ART EQUINOX, taking place on September 16-18th.
We interviewed Michael Pangburn, Director of the South Dakota Arts Council, Pat Boyd, Executive Director of South Dakotans for the Arts, and Lynn Verschoor, Director of the South Dakota Arts Museum.
ABI: What is the “state of the arts” in South Dakota today?
Lynn Verschoor: The arts in South Dakota are thriving due to the strong and consistent leadership over the last 40 years at the South Dakota Arts Council and South Dakotans for the Arts. They work hard to support, promote and advocate for artists and arts organizations across the state.
Pat Boyd: South Dakota is one of the best places in the country to make art, and one of the most difficult places to make a living doing it. This has always been true, but we have seen some improvement in recent years as the state’s economy has become more diverse and marketing has become global and accessible.
ABI: How can organizations such as yours best serve your membership?
Michael Pangburn: That, of course, is the $64 question! And I’m not sure of the answer. With the funds we have available, I think we are doing a reasonably good job of supporting and sustaining arts organizations in the state. Our direct support to artists has been less successful. We provide employment for artists through our Touring Arts and Artists in Schools & Communities programs as well as a few direct grants to individual artists. But the reality of the situation is that we don’t have a direct relationship with most artists in the state. That being said, many individual artists benefit indirectly from the support we provide arts organizations that in turn provide opportunities for artists to exhibit and perform.
Lynn Verschoor: The South Dakota Art Museum strives to inspire and support artists through dynamic exhibitions featuring local, regional, national and international artists, as well as supporting professional development opportunities for artists, educators and museum professionals.
ABI: What unique challenges do artists in South Dakota have?
Pat Boyd: South Dakota artists by and large work in a greater degree of isolation than in many areas of the country. Some negative aspects of this independence impact their marketing and to some extent their professionalism, in terms of presentation — although there are certainly many for whom the latter is not the case, marketing is nearly universally an issue.
Michael Pangburn: The biggest challenges center around the state’s geography and relatively small population. There aren’t a lot a performing or exhibition opportunities outside the larger population centers. With less than a million in the entire state, artists need to market their work more regionally to find enough income to sustain themselves. Some of have been successful at doing this. Others don’t even know where to begin.
ABI: How have you seen artists overcome difficulties to thrive in their businesses?
Michael Pangburn: Some artists have used technology – websites and social media – to promote and market themselves. Those who are most successful in this area sometimes struggle with staying true to their artistic vision and sensibilities vs. simply producing what they know will sell. What’s the balance between marketability and quality artwork. There IS a market for truly fine art; South Dakota artists who have made that connection have generally found markets outside the state to supplement their in-state work.
Lynn Verschoor: There are quite a few artists in South Dakota that have been able do what they love. And just like in any successful small business they have vision, passion, persistence and invest a lot of hard work.
Pat Boyd: South Dakotans are well known for their work ethic. The ability to push oneself, to practice and perfect, to get it right, is the single trait shared by South Dakota artists. Some have applied this principle to their careers in the business of the arts with relative success. Most would not accurately be described as thriving businesses. Many thrive artistically, most not financially.
Wendy Rosen and Carolyn Edlund of The Arts Business Institute will be speaking at Arts Equinox, the South Dakota statewide arts conference. Find out more about the event here.