South Dakota Humanities Council in 2017: A Year Full of Highlights

Left to Right: SFACF President Andy Patterson, SDHC board member Cathy Clark, past SDHC board member Sheryl Baloun, SFACF board vice chair Scott Christensen, SDHC board chair Judith Meierhenry, SDHC executive director Sherry DeBoer, former SDHC board member Margaret Cash Wegner, former SDHC board chair Jean Nicholson. The above group of people met at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation Office to celebrate SDHC meeting its fundraising challenge an entire year early.

2017 was a big year for the South Dakota Humanities Council. We increased our donations by $100,000, met two significant fundraising milestones, gathered South Dakotans for civil conversations led by inspirational speakers, and hosted and met authors who've sold millions of books worldwide.

As a statewide advocate for the humanities, our mission is to celebrate literature, promote civil conversation, and tell the stories that define our state.

Read our 2017 Highlights below.

Fundraising 'Off the Charts' 

In FY 2017, SDHC received $322,000 in donations, nearly $100,000 more than our total in 2016.

In FY 2017, SDHC received $322,000 in donations, nearly $100,000 more than our total in 2016.

In recent years, to protect our organization from potential cuts in federal funding, we've asked our donors to solidify our future through gifts to endowment funds in targeted geographic areas. We've also requested financial backing to boost humanities programs and events like the South Dakota Festival of Books.

Our supporters have responded emphatically.

In FY 2017, we received $322,000 in donations, nearly $100,000 more than our total in 2016. Our donors also helped us reach two remarkable fundraising milestones.

Milestone 1: First Half of Young Readers Match Met

2017 Young Readers Author/Illustrator Chris Van Dusen hugs a young fan following his presentation “Tales from Deckawoo Drive: Creating the 2017 Young Readers One Book” to third graders at the Rapid City Public Library on Sept. 21.

2017 Young Readers Author/Illustrator Chris Van Dusen hugs a young fan following his presentation "Tales from Deckawoo Drive: Creating the 2017 Young Readers One Book" to third graders at the Rapid City Public Library on Sept. 21.

We're well on our way to meeting a $100,000 matching federal grant, having reached the first $50,000 goal in May 2017. Less than $14,000 remains to meet the second $50,000 goal during the second phase.

The National Endowment for the Humanities opportunity is centered on our Young Readers Initiative, which has provided more than 12,000 books to elementary students around the state. The NEH Challenge Grant stipulated that we raise our first $50,000 by May 1, 2017, and another $50,000 by May 1, 2018, to receive the full match of $100,000.

When we meet the full match, our Young Readers will benefit greatly from $200,000 in additional funding.

The Young Readers initiative has provided more than 11,000 age-appropriate books to elementary students and brought their authors, including Newbery Medal-winning author Kate DiCamillo, to the Young Readers Festival of Books.

The initiative combats the "summer slide" sometimes experienced by students. It teaches young readers the importance of literacy and writing, as evidenced by the feedback we received from students who said the experience was precious because most of them "had never met an author before."

Milestone 2: Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation Arts Endowment Challenge

South Dakota Humanities Foundation (now South Dakota Humanities Council) founding board member Margaret Cash Wegner celebrated our Arts Endowment Challenge with us in Sioux Falls Dec. 15, 2017.

South Dakota Humanities Foundation (now South Dakota Humanities Council) founding board member and former South Dakota Committee on the Humanities board member Margaret Cash Wegner celebrated our Arts Endowment Challenge with us in Sioux Falls Dec. 15, 2017.

In our second fundraising milestone of 2017, the South Dakota Humanities Council received an early holiday gift Dec. 15, 2017. A $50,000 matching check from Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation marked another momentous fundraising achievement for us and our generous donors.

The SDHC and two local non-profits were chosen via a competitive application process in 2015 for the "Arts Endowment Challenge: A Community Foundation Initiative." The SFACF agreed to provide a $1 match for every $3 raised in endowment donations by the participating organizations. The SFACF holds and manages the endowment funds.

The bar was set: the SDHC needed to raise $150,000 in three years to receive a matching gift of $50,000. It only took two.

The SDHC officially met its goal at the end of 2017, the first of the three participating organizations to do so.

We celebrated the achievement, which means an additional $200,000 for humanities programming in the Sioux Falls area, with the SFACF board and staff at their downtown Sioux Falls office. SDHC board chair Judith Meierhenry accepted the $50,000 challenge contribution on behalf of the SDHC.

As evidenced by these two successful fundraising initiatives, donors have responded to our calls to help build cultural capital during these challenging times. They've reached deep into their pockets to help us bring multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to the Festival of Books, provide thousands of books to elementary school children, fuel endowments to secure the future of humanities programming, and move us closer to our long-term goals.

We're excited to use these funds to provide more quality programming in the next year, from the South Dakota Festival of Books to statewide grant programs, our Young Readers Initiative and more.

If you'd like to contribute to our efforts to continue these programs, click here.

Celebrating the Festival Where It All Began

Author S.D. Nelson holds up a copy of his book during

Author S.D. Nelson holds up a copy of his book during "Black Elk's Legacy in South Dakota & Beyond," a panel discussion about "Black Elk Speaks" on Sept. 23 of the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center, part of SDHC's 2017 "Race and Civility" initiative. Also participating were authors Philip Deloria and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.

2017 was a banner year for the South Dakota Humanities Council's annual Festival of Books.

The Festival began in Deadwood in 2003. Support from the City of Deadwood and other generous sponsors established a firm foundation that likely could not have been replicated elsewhere. Deadwood, a charming historical town with cobbled streets and many historical attractions, has always enticed authors and readers alike.

It was, therefore, appropriate to celebrate our beginnings in Deadwood where it all began. During the 15th anniversary event, we were honored to host Pulitzer Prize winners, and New York Times bestselling authors from around the country, talented South Dakota writers, and an author whose Vietnam War novels are required reading in high schools around the U.S.

Readers traveled long distances to the Festival to see Tim O'Brien, who won the National Book Award for his fiction masterpiece, "Going After Cacciato," and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for "The Things They Carried." O'Brien enlightened audience members – many of whom were assigned his books as high school students – with anecdotes about Ernest Hemingway, his writing, and life in general.

He was joined by fellow Vietnam Veteran author Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War, "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain."

South Dakota authors like Joseph Bottum, Linda Hasselstrom, Patrick Hicks, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve and Nancy Koupal led engaging sessions on Midwest literature, politics, poetry, and more.

Authors from all genres entertained readers who gathered for the 15th Anniversary, from the "Queen of Romantic Comedy," to a television producer-turned "foodie author," to an award-winning poet who counts Festival of Books fans as one of her main sources of inspiration.

Promoting Race and Civility Initiative: 'Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate'

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. King typifies the spirit of our 2017 “Race and Civility” initiative.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. King typifies the spirit of our 2017 "Race and Civility" initiative.

For our 45th year of cultural programming statewide, we developed a theme of "Race and Civility" in collaboration with the National Endowment for Humanities Grant Program, "Humanities and the Legacy of Race and Ethnicity in the United States."

The NEH initiative supports public programming that addresses "persistent social, economic, cultural, and racial issues that divide our communities." We used extra NEH funding to encourage grant proposals aimed at promoting conversations on Race and Civility in South Dakota.

The initiative paid cultural dividends, fulfilling our mission of promoting civil conversation. We engaged various populations within our state (e.g., immigrants, minorities, and others) by sponsoring community discussions that encouraged peace and respectful dialogue.

South Dakotans found opportunities in their communities to meet highly-accomplished, distinguished scholars who're renowned for bridging cultural gaps.

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, encouraged a large crowd at South Dakota State University's Volstorff Ballroom to stand up against bigotry and racism. Although her world was forever altered by what some considered to have been a racially-motivated shooting that took her son's life, Fulton's message focused on kindness and understanding rather than exacting revenge or reciprocating hatred.

As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

'Black Elk Speaks' to Festival Audiences

The book "Black Elk Speaks" by John G. Neihardt was the cornerstone of the 2017 Race and Civility initiative, as it was featured on the cover of the 2017 SDHC Program Catalog and in a keynote event at the 2017 Festival of Books in Deadwood.

A large crowd watched Philip J. Deloria, S.D. Nelson and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve discuss the legacy of Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books. Deloria wrote a new introduction to "The Complete Edition of Black Elk Speaks" and he and Sneve and Nelson enthralled the audience with their analysis of the ancient healer's life and legacy.

Harney Peak in the Black Hills was recently renamed "Black Elk Peak." It was initially named after Army Gen. William S. Harney, whose troops fought against Indians during American expansion in the West. Our initiative provided statewide education on Black Elk's story. We hope our programs will inspire South Dakotans to consider the importance of such actions in these turbulent times where meaningful dialogue and open-mindedness are so critical.

Learning About Muslim Americans' Struggle for Equality in America

Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota received a Race and Civility-themed SDHC grant to bring social activist Amer Ahmed to the 2017 TESL Closer Connections Conference in November. Ahmed told a mostly non-minority audience of the struggles faced by Muslim Americans in modern-day America.

Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota received a Race and Civility-themed SDHC grant to bring social activist Amer Ahmed to the 2017 TESL Closer Connections Conference in November.

Ahmed told a mostly non-minority audience of the struggles faced by Muslim Americans in modern-day America.

Watch highlights of his lecture in the video to the right. 

The Race and Civility Initiative was the overarching theme of a 2017 grant cycle that featured 30 major grants supporting 19 communities' self-identified needs for cultural and educational programs. Communities explored topics as diverse as literacy, film, digital humanities, tribal history, literary journals, and archeology, with the largest audience going to DeSmet's Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Society, which had nearly 4,500 attendees.

Quick grants provided 202 programs in 70 communities for service groups, museums and libraries otherwise unable to feed the hunger for cultural programs and stories. Favorite topics included Conversations on the Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum, conversations with the State Poet Laureate, and the 2017 One Book series, which included 42 programs and four One Book Tour stops for readers throughout the state.

Advocacy: Taking Action

2017 Festival of Books author Patrick Hicks of Sioux Falls was one of many to contribute to the SDHC blog series, “Why the Humanities?”

2017 Festival of Books author Patrick Hicks of Sioux Falls was one of many to contribute to the SDHC blog series, "Why the Humanities?"

We faced many challenges in 2017, as preliminary budgets proposed discontinuing funding for the NEH. We eventually received funding through a continuing resolution, thanks in part to our allies and advocates in South Dakota and beyond.

Our supporters advocated on our behalf by writing and calling their congressional representatives, writing letters to the editor, supporting us on social media and more.

They also eloquently expressed their thoughts on the importance of the humanities in our blog series "Why the Humanities." The series, created in the face of funding cuts, featured South Dakotans who are experts in the humanities and those who have been touched by humanities programming.

We were honored not only to receive this type of support but also to hear how important our programs are to our supporters, with quotes like:

"The humanities is fully half of our human existence. The pursuit of accomplishments of science and technology must be in the companionship of care for our human selves. This is no argument, but instead the reality we know in our hearts—the smithies of our souls." - Former SDHC board member Steve Sanford

Sanford also wrote an advocacy letter to Congress that was referred to during crucial deliberations of the Interior Committee as they worked toward developing a federal budget.

Award Winners Exemplifying Spirit of the Humanities

The Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Awards, pictured above, honor contributions to humanities in South Dakota.

The Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Awards, pictured above, honor contributions to humanities in South Dakota.

We selected three people and one organization for 2017 Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities awards. The annual award honors contributions to humanities in South Dakota and the 2017 winners exemplify the type of spirit that carries our organization through good times and bad.

The SDHC and its board of directors select honorees who demonstrate a commitment to scholarly and cultural advocacy around South Dakota. They present humanities-related events and programs, write books and publications relevant to the humanities, and provide funding or partnerships to sustain a vibrant cultural landscape.

Professor, Charitable Organization, Author, Former Board Member Among Honorees

South Dakota Festival of Books author William Kent Krueger, former SDHC board member Jean Nicholson, and SDHC scholar Jace DeCory were honored individually, while The United Way of the Black Hills was recognized for its Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Initiative and partnership with the SDHC's Young Readers Initiative.

The four honorees received their awards at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood in September. Read more about them here.

Hosting an Outstanding One Book Author and Events

2017 One Book South Dakota Author J. Ryan Stradal opens the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books with a One Book Tour Event at Racing Magpie in Rapid City Sept. 20.

2017 One Book South Dakota Author J. Ryan Stradal opens the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books with a One Book Tour Event at Racing Magpie in Rapid City Sept. 20.

Eva Thorvald, the "foodie" heroine of "Kitchens of the Great Midwest," journeys throughout the Midwest leaving satisfied diners in her wake. The creator of her character did the same for readers in South Dakota as the 2017 One Book South Dakota author.

J. Ryan Stradal, whose award-winning debut has been called "ingenious" by the New York Times Book Review, entertained audiences in Pierre, Watertown and Sioux Falls before heading west to the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books, Sept. 21-24 in Deadwood and Rapid City.

"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" follows Thorvald's journey from an orphan with an unusually keen palate to serving as a humble kitchen helper to becoming an A-list celebrity chef whose eager patrons pay a small fortune to taste her cooking.

"I really wanted to mention South Dakota in the book, and for good reason," Stradal explained before the Festival. "I really loved South Dakota growing up."

The 2017 One Book South Dakota author grew up in Minnesota but bonded quickly with the landscape west of his childhood home during Stradal family trips to the Black Hills, where they would hike, camp and visit attractions like Mount Rushmore. J. Ryan would later embark on an annual journey to Custer State Park with his high school buddies.

His lead character Eva is more likely to catch and cook a walleye herself than fly in salmon from Alaska. It also explains why the virtuoso chef has an encyclopedic knowledge of locally-grown foods and refuses anything but the freshest ingredients.

It's safe to say that the Midwest, and specifically South Dakota, had as much of an impact on Stradal as it did on the iconic character he created. The result was the creation of a beloved novel enjoyed by readers throughout South Dakota in 2017. Being chosen as the One Book South Dakota author in a state where he has enjoyed so many memories and adventures was an honor for Stradal.

"To have an entire state say, 'we really like your book' really floored me," he said.

Meeting the Man Behind 'The Firm'

SDHC Center for the Book Director Jennifer Widman and SDHC Executive Director Sherry DeBoer pose with John Grisham at Book Expo America 2017.

SDHC Center for the Book Director Jennifer Widman (left) and SDHC Executive Director Sherry DeBoer pose with John Grisham at Book Expo America 2017.

Not many authors are truly household names these days. SDHC Executive Director Sherry DeBoer and Center for the Book Director Jennifer Widman were both lucky enough in 2017 to meet an author who rises to that level.

Meeting John Grisham is the type of experience that would be a "highlight of the year" for many fiction enthusiasts. Maybe it's because of the many movies made from his books. Or perhaps it's just because he tells a darn good story. At any rate, he's earned near-universal recognition.

As successful as he is, Grisham rarely tours to promote his work. In fact, he hasn't been on a traditional book tour in 25 years. However, he recently visited bookstores in several states and appeared at Book Expo America in New York City, where Sherry and Jennifer caught up with him.

You can read all about their experience here.

Celebrating 45 years of SDHC

Festival of Books volunteer Keri Thompson prepares a cake for the celebration of SDHC's 45th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of the Festival of Books held at Exhibitors' Hall at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center.

Festival of Books volunteer Keri Thompson prepares a cake for the celebration of SDHC's 45th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of the Festival of Books held at Exhibitors' Hall at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center.

The South Dakota Humanities Council (SDHC), founded in 1972 in response to an act of Congress, is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit and the only cultural organization in the state whose sole mission is to deliver humanities programming to the people of South Dakota.

Founder Jack Marken, a humanities professor at SDSU in Brookings, drove efforts to establish a statewide organization that would promote thoughtfulness, literacy, peace, understanding and tolerance. We plan events and programming with his initial vision in mind.

The 2017 highlights listed above are a snapshot of the many socially-conscious, mind-expanding actions inspired by and carried out by the humanities council in the 45 years of our existence. We celebrated these highlights during our 45th year as a statewide advocate for the humanities, working with other partners to foster literary and civic engagement.

Backed by open-minded, thoughtful and generous citizens, the South Dakota Humanities Council will continue to celebrate literature, promote civil conversation, and tell the stories that define our state in 2018 and beyond.

We'll continue to promote public programming in the humanities; provide grant funding for community programs and research and discussion projects; and carry out the mission of the South Dakota Center for the Book (established by the Library of Congress in 2002) through reading and literacy programs and the annual Festival of Books.

Help us Make 2018 Extra Special

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.

These are just a few highlights from an extremely successful 2017. To see more examples of the impact of the humanities in action, subscribe to our blog.

Finally, to help us continue our programming, please click below to find out more about how you can contribute.