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Commentary: Arts and culture are thriving in the Dakotas

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I frequently find myself telling people that I believe that St. Louis is the most culturally rich city, per capita, in the country. We're not New York or Chicago. Well, I just returned from a 3,000 mile road trip to the Dakotas and back and was treated to more art and culture than I ever imagined I'd see on a trip such as this.

Our first stop was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the most populous city in the state. The arts are alive and well in Sioux Falls. In the beginning of the 21st century, The Sioux Empire Arts Council was the leader in the art scene and gives out Mayor's Awards each year in several categories for excellence demonstrated by residents of the city. The Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk was the first evidence of the wonderful art renaissance in the city. I enjoyed walking the walk and watching both tourists and residents enjoy the well-crafted and numerous works of art.

We also visited the Washington Pavilion that originally was the Washington High School which has been renovated into a wonderful art center housing two performing arts spaces, a visual art space and a science center.

A permanent Northern Plains Tribal Arts collection is housed in the Egger Gallery at the Washington Pavilion within the visual arts area and what a special collection this is. Contemporary native artists such as Arthur Amiotte and Jim Yellowhawk have works on display which were a feast for the eyes and soul.

Our next stop was in Rapid City, South Dakota which had several very high quality galleries of indigenous art and right outside the city is the world class, world famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial. I could go on and on about how the monument came to be. To get all the information, one can just google, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the actual sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. Borglum's interest in art developed early but he didn't receive any formal training until he attended a private school in Kansas. He lived and worked and had many commissions all over the United States and Europe.

Borglum worked on a project in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Carving was limited to jackhammers and chisels until a visiting Belgian engineer taught Borglum the use of dynamite for precise work.

And of course, a Lakota Sioux warrior, a famed artist, the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, and his family and a canvas composed of granite are the elements that compose the legendary past, present and future of the Crazy Horse Memorial also located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Then we were off to Fargo, North Dakota where I picked up a certificate that acknowledged that I had visited all fifty states. We visited the Plains Museum of Indian Art which to our surprise displayed very important pieces of contemporary art, not related to only indigenous art. The programming at this museum was incredible and is very impressive. We took a tour and were told that programming was reinventing the museum. Our guide told us that the staff was working on such questions as how useful the museum can be to the community and how to remove peoples’ notions that a museum is just a collection of objects. The Museum in 2016 won the prestigious Bush Prize for community innovation and received a grant for a not for profit organization that provides leadership in the creation of collaborative opportunities that work to solve community problems.

On the road back home, we stopped in Minneapolis and went crazy with only one day in this sophisticated art filled city. We wound up visiting the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

We saw the David Hockney exhibition "People, Places and Things" which featured some of his prints, paintings and recent digital works. He has been showing his work for over six decades and some of his works feature his engagement with literature and theater.

We also saw Los Angeles artist Liz Larner's exhibition “Don't put it back like it was." In this exhibition Larner explored the material and social possibilities of sculpture in innovative and surprising ways.

Our final stop was in Des Moines, Iowa where we immediately went to the Des Moines Art Center which is a world-class collection of architecture. The original 1948 building was the work of the Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen who helped introduce modern architecture into the United States and had, only a few years before his Art Center commission, won a major national competition for a proposed Smithsonian Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. The second Art Center architect, the Chinese American I. M.Pei, also won a highly competitive commission in Washington for his design of the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, just as his 1968 addition to the Art Center was finished. Completed in 1985, the third Art Center building by Richard Meier stands in sharp contrast to both the horizontality of Saarinen and the humility of Pei. Two of the architects were the early winners of the most prestigious international award for architects, the Pritzker Prize, established in 1979. Pei won in1983 and Meier in 1984.

These three buildings house a renowned collection of modern and contemporary art. The special exhibition at the time of our visit was “Images Unbound" and dealt with appropriation of art. A quote from the exhibition brochure says, "Artists have also turned inward to consider how advances in technology have reshaped the art world itself. Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein and Sherrie Levine, among many others, have questioned how our ability to reproduce images has changed our experience of art.”

What a trip and what an enlightenment to see other art institutions strive for the same goals in the world of art and in the community.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards.

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