If You Live in a Place, You Will Find Art There
I’ve been a community arts developer for over 26 years. Most of that time was spent working in rural communities in South Dakota and the Great Plains. Moving back to South Dakota after a stint in New York City and San Francisco, I became increasingly aware of how people passionate about the arts impact rural and small communities making certain that art is a part of the lives of their children and their neighbors. Community arts councils, community theatres, visual art galleries, community choruses and bands…all defined the word “community” for me.
In South Dakota, many amazing professional artists draw inspiration from the rural countryside where they were raised. Others have escaped from the city and now feel at home on the prairie. There was no mistaking that these artists live and work in rural settings because it inspires their art. These professional artists, as well as the community artists who would not think of themselves as professionals, became my inspiration. This is where I learned that the arts do not need to be taught, that they are instinctive. Formalized learning can expand and inform art making, but the practice of music, dance, theatre, literature and visual art comes from the soul, from everyone’s soul. I’m still not sure what the terms “placemaking” and “rural arts” mean but I know what it means to be inspired by your home, your neighbors, your land and its people—and to express that inspiration through the arts that envelops an entire community. I know the sorrow of losing an elementary school and the pride of turning that school into a local center for the arts. I know the joy of combined church choirs singing Handel in December and of music and arts festivals in the parks in the summer.
We had our state centennial while I was director of South Dakotans for the Arts. For that event, I was honored to be part of an amazing team of artists and arts administrators who helped to write the following Declaration of Dakota Cultural Identity. (We wrote it with North Dakotans since we have the same state birthday.) I love this language but mostly I love the memories of people and places that come back to me, of ordinary people singing, dancing and celebrating through the arts in the place they call home.
A DECLARATION OF DAKOTA CULTURAL IDENTITY – 1989
Reaffirmed by the South Dakota Arts Council – 2008
We affirm that all lands and people on Earth hold equal and worthy distinction in expressing their individual cultures. We believe that art is the universal language, and as such, is the expression of our common humanity. Through the arts we give voice, color, form, texture and meaning to the vast range of what it is to be human.
As Dakotans, we declare this to be our cultural identity:
We are a people whose spirit is shaped by the land and tied to the seasons. Time is marked by the cycles of planting and harvesting and migrations of wildlife. Landscape is an integral part of our being.
We are a people whose loyalty belongs to our neighbors. Climate and geographic distance often hinder our joining together, yet our sparse population intensifies our belief in each other and the value of the individual. Everyone and everything is closely related.
We are a people whose individual ethnic heritage is maintained and valued. Sovereign nations of Native Americans, descendants of pioneers, and recent immigrants possess and preserve distinctive traditions. We strive to understand and respect the diversities of all Dakota cultures.
We are a people whose existence is perpetuated by faith. Our spirituality gives us a common bond with humanity and strengthens our relationship with nature. Through respect and love of the land, we strive to maintain a quality of environment for generations to come.
We are a people whose contribution to world culture is on our own terms of excellence. We create, we interpret, and we present art within the Dakota framework, telling the world of our sense of place.
We are a people whose quality of life depends upon our artistic expressions. We believe the arts influence the desires, beliefs, values, and character of our people. The Dakota landscape and spirit are reflected in our art.
BE IT RESOLVED, by this Declaration of Dakota Cultural Identity, that we take pride in knowing who we are and that we seek to maintain a rich and diverse cultural life for all Dakotans. Individually and collectively, we strive to make the arts accessible to all citizens through awareness and education.
WE HEREBY PROCLAIM our belief that art is fundamental to human existence and that our Dakota Vision will protect, encourage and support the arts through the next century.
Adopted at the Dakota Centennial Arts Congress, Aberdeen, SD, September 23, 1989 – a two state arts conference attended by 400 people.
Approved by the North Dakota Council on the Arts and the South Dakota Arts Council and signed by George A. Sinner, Governor of North Dakota, and George S. Mickelson, Governor of South Dakota, in celebration of statehood Centennials for both North and South Dakota 1889-1989.