The South Dakota Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program
When the South Dakota Arts Council reinstated its Traditional Arts Program in 1999, one of their priorities was to resume an apprenticeship program, which had been very successful during its earlier incarnation in the 1980s. With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Folk & Traditional Arts Infrastructure program as well as state funds, the first round of six apprenticeships was awarded in 2000-2001. Since then, 36 additional apprenticeship have been undertaken in art forms as diverse as Midwestern fiddling, German Russian willow basketry, Lakota hoop dancing, Damascus knife making, Finnish weaving, saddlemaking, buffalo horn spoon carving, Ukrainian Easter eggs, Norwegian wood carving, and Dakota quillwork.
Apprenticeship grants support a master artists to work intensively with one apprentice (or occasionally two or three) to pass on the details of a traditional art form, with the intention that the students will then be able to carry on that tradition into the future. Traditional and folk arts are learned informally, in families and cultural communities, through observation, imitation and one-on-one work with a more experienced person. The SDAC Apprenticeship Program is based on this time-honored system of teaching and learning, honoring the elders and encouraging the passing on of South Dakota’s traditions to new generations. Grant funds also help apprentices acquire necessary tools, equipment, and materials for their work, and help with travel costs and other expenses of getting the master and student together frequently.
One of the most satisfying results of the program has been seeing some former apprentices now working as masters to pass on what they have learned. Several of the artists in the program have also become part of the Arts Council’s touring and school rosters, and a number have had their work featured in exhibits around the state.
Traditional arts live in the hearts and hands of the people who create them, and in the communities that nurture and support them. The South Dakota Arts Council is pleased to play a small part in honoring those artists and supporting them in keeping their unique skills and talents alive by passing them on to future generations.