Why the Humanities: 'Please Inform Yourself of What is at Stake Locally'

Why the Humanities?

By Kara Dirkson

Editor's Note: "Why the Humanities" is an SDHC blog series explaining the importance of the humanities to our state and nation. The series features guest posts from experts in the humanities disciplines and those who have been touched by humanities programming. The opinions expressed in this series do not represent official views of the South Dakota Humanities Council and are the sole property of the author.

Kara Dirkson is the executive director of the Sioux Falls Arts Council and a former fine art appraisal and art services business owner. This post originally appeared in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader as a letter to the editor

Take Stock of What's at Stake Locally with Arts Funding Cuts

Whichever side of the federal funding for the arts and humanities debate you stand on, in light of the proposal to not only eliminate future funding but also renege on already promised funding for 2017, please inform yourself of what is at stake locally. It's substantial.

Do you know a child who has been inspired by artists in residence in our public schools? For me it was Tom Roberts doing a theater residency with my fourth grade class at Longfellow Elementary in the mid '80s. Now my fourth grade daughter has had the privilege of working with artists in residence who have encouraged her to believe that she can be a computer programming-rainforest exploring-bug scientist-painter-violinist.

The long-time artist residency program comes to our schools thanks to National Endowment for the Arts funding through the South Dakota Arts Council—it is just one example of what we stand to lose.

Valuable Experiences on the Chopping Block

Here are more experiences to add to the chopping block for reduction in part or whole:

Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society gives our community Jazzfest, injecting our city with a summertime artistic and economic boost. In addition to other year-round programming, SFJB is in middle schools throughout the state offering the Jazz Diversity Project, a blend of arts and humanities funded by both NEA and NEH through the South Dakota Arts Council and the South Dakota Humanities Council.

In some cases, these are the first and only live professional musical experiences affected kids will have.

SculptureWalk adds tremendous character to downtown (and beyond) and is a key visual reference in marketing our city for tourism and workforce development. This iconic element of our downtown can also trace support back to federal funding.

Arts and Humanities Projects Give Back to Communities

Did you see the gift local artist Steve Bormes gave to the community with his Deep Sea Imaginarium exhibition at the Visual Arts Center last year? That was possible in part with an artist grant Bormes received from the South Dakota Arts Council.

Thanks to funding from the South Dakota Humanities Council, this exhibition was the setting for a panel featuring the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, John Luther Adams, brought in by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. This is world-class programming in the heart of the Midwest.

Have you appreciated the revitalization of Meldrum Park on the east side of Sioux Falls with the addition of the Whittier Mural? This brought thousands of NEA dollars to Sioux Falls—not to mention empowered a school community to make significant neighborhood change through the arts.

Jennifer Richard Jacobson presents at the Washington Pavilion during the 2016 Young Readers Festival of Books.

Jennifer Richard Jacobson presents at the Washington Pavilion during the 2016 Young Readers Festival of Books.

Are you familiar with the South Dakota Humanities Council's Festival of Books, which brought hundreds of Sioux Falls kids together to hear their favorite books read by the renowned authors who wrote them in 2014 and 2016? Have you heard of the Action Arts and Science Program the Pavilion offers as outreach to schools where kids lack out-of-classroom hands-on arts and science activities?

It brought Sioux Falls into the national spotlight when it was recognized by former First Lady Michelle Obama last year. These are fantastic ongoing programs for our kids I will be sad to see disappear.

Federal Investment in the Arts: a Ripple Effect

The Lakota Music Project is the flagship community engagement program of our South Dakota Symphony, and it received federal funds through the SDAC and the SDHC too. Just recently, the SDSO successfully leveraged past support into a significant financial investment from the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation.

This represents the tremendous ripple effect of federal investment in the arts. From a financial standpoint, this is a very effective investment of the $.46 per capita spent on the arts.

These aren't elitist projects or esoteric exhibitions on the coasts that many critics say are the primary recipients of federal funding for the arts and humanities. They are here in our backyard.

The Lakota Music Project is a collaboration between the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and traditional American Indian drum group.

The Lakota Music Project is a collaboration between the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and traditional Lakota drumming group. 

Jane Chu: Not a 'Cultural Elitist'

By the way, did you know that the current Chairperson of the NEA is from our backyard—Jane Chu is a former Sioux Falls resident and artist. She isn't a "coastal elitist."

If you don't believe in continuing federal funding for the arts and humanities but have enjoyed these aspects of life in Sioux Falls, prepare to make up for the gaps that will be left by the elimination of federal funding. The alternative is to watch these things diminish or disappear.

Note: The Sioux Falls Arts Council does not rely on federal funding for its immediate operations and programming.

Subscribe to the South Dakota Humanities Council Blog

Automatically receive posts from the South Dakota Humanities Council blog each week by subscribing at the link below. 

Subscribe to the SDHC blog for updates on humanities and book festival programs