Why the Humanities: 'You Can Change the World'

Why the Humanities? 

By Linda Hasselstrom

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.

Linda Hasselstrom is a South Dakota rancher, author of 15 books, full-time resident writer at Windbreak House Writing Retreats and former South Dakota Festival of Books presenter. She received the Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award in 2011.

Change the World: With the Humanities and the Arts

One child, one book, one teacher, one pen can change the world.
--Malala Yousafzai*

Why is the budget proposal calling for entirely eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities such a terrible idea?

After all, South Dakotans say they really don't like much government.

But what we say doesn't always square with the facts.

Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of annual federal spending goes to the NEA, the NEH, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting combined. Deducting that amount from the federal budget would do almost nothing to improve the nation's economy, but would do incalculable damage to South Dakota's culture.

Informed, enlightened and engaged citizens are crucial to our democracy, and the arts and humanities are fundamental to creating these citizens. South Dakota's Humanities Council and Arts Council provide literary, artistic and historical events which contribute money to local economies as well as contributing to our cultural heritage.

And let me be blunt: those "contributions" include cash spent in South Dakota communities large and small.
South Dakota is the 46th most populous state, and in the most recent census, in 2012, had 833,354 citizens. Many of them benefit from SDHC and SDAC programs, and the numbers are growing.

Linda Hasselstrom speaks to a writing group.

The SDHC and South Dakota

In 2016, a staggering 47,299 South Dakotans participated directly in South Dakota Humanities Council programs in libraries, schools, museums, senior centers and cultural centers in 72 communities across South Dakota. Hundreds of other people benefited by subscribing to the SDHC blog for news and literary discussions, and other artistic ventures.

One child, one book . . .

For 14 years, SDHC's South Dakota Festival of Books has inspired readers and writers, bringing in writers like former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser of Nebraska, demonstrating that Great Plains writers really are great. A total of 13 Pulitzer Prize winners visited the state during 2016 to celebrate 100 years of the prize's existence.

Presenters such as National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich and Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda have talked about their work. In 2016, the Veterans Writing Contest encouraged members of the military, retired and active, to share their stories. The 2017 Veterans program will feature Vietnam veteran and author 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."

Geneive Abdo, nonresident fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and a fellow in the Middle East program at the Stimson Center, whose research focuses on modern Iran and political Islam, will discuss her book "The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi'a-Sunni Divide."

The 2017 One Book South Dakota program will feature "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal, and the Young Readers One Book program will showcase a bind-in of three books, "Adventures on Deckawoo Drive: Volumes 1-3," in book discussions, presentations and other events across the state.

Tim O'Brien will be featured at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books.

One child . . . or 11,000 . . .

The Young Readers Initiative has provided more than 11,000 age-appropriate books to elementary students during the past three years and brought their authors, including Newberry Medal winner Kate DiCamillo, to the Young Readers Festival of Books.

A 2016 NEH Challenge Access Grant will expand the Young Readers initiative to elementary students on all nine South Dakota American Indian reservations, as well as to Spanish-speaking English Language Learners, promoting cultural diversity in the state.

The SDAC and South Dakota

The South Dakota Arts Council is celebrating fifty years of sponsorship for its various programs. According to Surveys by the NEA, 71.4 percent of South Dakotans are attending arts events every year, and 51.4 percent of South Dakotans personally perform or create artworks.

As a division of the Department of Tourism, SDAC advocates for the arts statewide as well as providing services that enrich state communities through "the promotion of the creativity and visitor industries, by nurturing cultural leadership and education, and recognizing artistic excellence."

In 2016, the activities co-sponsored by SDAC reached 920,000 people, including 270,000 youth, and involved more than 16,000 artists. The SDAC awarded 455 grants, supported with funds from the NEA and the State of South Dakota through a portion of the tourism promotion tax. The total 2016 budget of $1.59 million included $1.27 million in grants and special project support, which generated $17.59 million in local cash matching funds.

The Artists in Schools and Communities program sends visiting artists in in literature and creative writing, in music, in traditional arts, in theater, and the visual arts all over the state.

Linda Hasselstrom has presented at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

One child, one book, one teacher . . .

SDAC helps make the arts available in all regions of the state by providing funds to non-profit sponsor organizations for presenting Touring Arts, with artists and exhibitions selected on the basis of quality by review panels and the South Dakota Arts Council. For this program, the SDAC sponsored 190 events in 165 communities by 230 artists, and reached 22,725 people, 12,332 of them youth.

Other programs coordinated and/or funded by SDAC include the Art for State Buildings program, which ensures that state buildings include works of art for public display; the Traditional Arts Program, which helps artists and organizations carrying on skills and esthetic forms that are rooted in culture; and Poetry Out Loud, a free program for public and private high school students that uses memorization and recitation of great poetry to help young people master public speaking, build self-confidence, learn about their literary heritage, and compete for more than $100,000 in awards.

What Can I Do to Help?

You can change the world.

To help these good programs continue contributing to our citizens, you can do three things.

  1. Contact your congressional representatives and urge them to support NEH, NEA, and the state councils. Phone calls or post cards are most effective. Be sure to tell them what these programs have done for your community.
    -- Senator John Thune, 511 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510; toll free: 1-866-850-3855; 1-202-224-2321.
    -- Senator Mike Rounds, 502 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington DC 20510; toll free: 1-844-875-5268; 2-202-224-5842.
    -- Representative Kristi Noem, 2457 Rayburn House Office Bldg., Washington, DC, 20510; toll-free: 1-855-225-2801; 1-202-225-2801.
  2. Like SDHC and like SDAC on Facebook. Follow SDHC and follow SDAC on Twitter to keep up with current news.
  3. Sign up for newsletters from SDAC and SDHC, and invite friends to do the same.
  4. Contribute. Help sustain funds that will guarantee arts and humanities programs in South Dakota permanently, no matter what happens at the federal level. Learn more about donation opportunities at the respective websites.

Contact Information

South Dakota Humanities Council
1215 Trail Ridge Road, Suite A, Brookings, SD 57006
(605) 688-6113
E-mail: info@sdhumanities.org

National Endowment for the Humanities
400 7th Street SW, Washington, DC 20506
info@neh.gov
General Information: 1-800-NEH-1121; 202-606-8400
Federal Relay (TTY Users): 800-877-8399

South Dakota Arts Council
PO Box 2496, Sioux Falls, SD 57101
(605) 252-5979
Arts Alive: Current edition of Arts Alive

National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20506
(202) 682-5400
E-mail: webmgr@arts.gov

Linda Hasselstrom at her home in Western South Dakota

--Linda M. Hasselstrom, at Windbreak House, Spring, 2017

*Malala Yousafzai, (born July 12, 1997), is a Pakistani activist who, while a teenager, spoke out publicly against the Taliban's prohibition on the education of girls. She gained global attention when she survived an assassination attempt at age 15.

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