How a global pandemic changed the Sioux Falls Arts Council
The warm days of summer have all but disappeared, kids are back in school, and we are all finding our new strides in a post pandemic world. It is hard to look back at the last three years and remember “what we were doing in before this all started?” I, myself had been in the middle of transitioning roles, both personally and professionally; having become a new parent in July of 2019 and starting as the Executive Director for the Sioux Falls Arts Council in November. Everything was an adjustment for me and any expectation for normalcy or a regular sleep schedule simply did not exist.
Five months into my new position, I could start to see the impact of my efforts. Spending much of that time familiarizing myself with the SFAC’s programing, getting to know the other arts organizations leaders, cleaning, repainting the office and gallery to welcome the public into the space for art markets, gallery openings and general artfoolery. Then, it all changed.
When “COVID-19” started spreading across the news and across the globe, the Arts Council along with many of our fellow organizations and businesses chose to shut our doors to the public to start working from home in the wake of this uncertainty.
With no end in sight, it seemed that everyone’s focus was to keep their heads above water. The Arts Councils regular in-person programming took a back seat as we learned to adapt to a virtual world. We spent time organizing with the leaders in the arts community to discuss pivoting to virtual events and navigate the new language of Shuttered Venue, PPP and EIDL Loans. Creating the hashtag #togetherweart, we encouraged others to post and share to lift our artists through the noise of the overwhelming digital clutter. Although we were all isolating from each other physically, there was a thread of connection amongst us as we weathered the same storm.
A TIME FOR INNOVATION
A large portion of the pandemic was spent working with the City of Sioux Falls and Downtown Sioux Falls on an outdoor gallery downtown called Art Box. The effort to wrap 26 utility boxes with local artists work challenged the way we created calls for art. After working with a committee of community organizations, we realized the need to change the current process to be more inclusive and equitable if we wanted to include work that truly represented the entire community.
We created a simple paper application which artists could create their work directly on and distributed through the Siouxland Libraries and other community centers. We received over 196 total submissions and were able to represent 66 artists among the 26 boxes. This project proved we could remove barriers to be more inclusive if we put in the work in and made it easier for the artists to apply for city-led projects.
A NEW BEGINNING
During 2021, many of the performance venues and art galleries reopened. Ready to welcome their audiences back, they added some restrictions of mask wearing and social distancing. Unfortunately, the Arts Council office and gallery lacked this ability to space folks out.
So, as the opportunity presented itself, the Arts Council moved out of our home of 10 years in the Crane Building and into a small office in the historic Orpheum Theatre in November 2021. In this new space, we have been able to direct more time to supporting the arts community without the maintenance of a larger space. (See cover photo)
In January 2022, with generous funding from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, we piloted an Artist Micro Grant Program. This program was developed from the learned experience of the Art Box project to provide equitable and accessible funding opportunities for artists. The application was short and sweet, translated in 5 of the top languages spoken in Sioux Falls and distributed in paper versions through the public library system.
In the first quarter, we received 80 applications and in less than a year have received over 240 applications, funding a total of 45 of those requests. The Artist Micro Grant program has secured funding through 2024 with the hopes of continuing the program far into the future. It is truly the work we were meant to do.
Mid-2022, we launched a new collaboration with the Visual Arts Center in the Washington Pavilion to bring in a series of 3 emerging artists into their Schultz Gallery. These collaborations create a unique opportunity to pay a stipend to artists that may not have had the chance to present work in as a solo show in that gallery.
We kicked off the first in this series with Hilda Esperanza Langle work “Donde Nacen Las Palabra : Where Words Are Born” and will present another artist before the years end. By leaving our old gallery space, we have still provided opportunities to continue our mission of elevating and supporting artists through this new partnership.
Looking forward, I feel encouraged that not only did the Sioux Falls Arts Council survive a most difficult time, but did so by opening ourselves to be collaborative, stretching our resources to benefit others and ultimately developed into a stronger, more compassionate and well-rounded organization. Together we art!