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Linda Bartholomew, a member of the Faulkton Area Arts Council and the Faulkton Area Development Board, stands in front of a mural painted by high school students in the community. Photo taken Aug. 15, 2018. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Rural communities find benefits in public art

FAULKTON, S.D. — Public art can be a beneficial part of rural communities, arts officials say.

“In any community where there is an idea and a space, how you bring the people together in partnership to work on that idea is going to be beneficial to everybody involved,” says Kim Konikow, executive director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

“The arts is about everything,” agrees Linda Bartholomew, a member of the Faulkton Area Arts Council.

The Faulkton Area Arts Council formed in 1975 and has remained a constant — though changing presence — in the town of just more than 700. Their initial focus was on community theater, but they’ve moved to different mediums over the years, Bartholomew says.

(To read more about what's going on in Faulkton, S.D., click here.)

The benefit of public art is especially pronounced for rural communities, says Rebecca Cruse, deputy director of the South Dakota Arts Council. A report from the National Endowment for the Arts shows rural counties that host performing arts events regularly tend to have greater population growth. Plus, rural arts events tend to attract more outside visitors than urban arts events, the report says.

In South Dakota, public art like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial and the Corn Palace pull in visitors, and Sioux Falls and Rapid City have been “completely revitalized through public art projects and programs,” Cruse says. But she lists projects in Eagle Butte, Freeman, Millbank and Sisseton as examples of the work of smaller communities, as well as a one-day film festival running alongside the Oglala Lakota Nation wacipi.

“Public art is what really drives our tourism economy in South Dakota, and it has been the main attraction for a long time,” she says.

Konikow has been in North Dakota seven months, and she sees artists in the state “do good work and put their heads down.” She wants that to change.

“Let’s start talking to one another and brainstorming ways to build community by coming together,” she says.

Both she and Cruse say projects need to fit the community.

“Start with a sense of place and build around that. Look at the opportunities and strengths in the community, and utilize the talents, skills and knowledge of the locals,” Cruse says.

Bartholomew, standing by a mural completed by high school students, says public art benefits everyone.

“The arts just bring smiles to people’s faces, really, and when you have a mural project such as this and the one we have on the elevator, the smiles get bigger and you get more visitors, and that’s great for everybody,” she says.

Cruse suggests the following resources for communities: