Sioux Falls Art Community Thrives

Jul 1, 2013

Downtown Sioux Falls has many galleries and opportunities for artists.
Credit Jaden Miller / SDPB

The downtown area of South Dakota’s largest city has come alive over the past several years. While attractions like the Empire Mall still draw large crowds, many developments have made downtown Sioux Falls a go-to place to shop, eat, and live. Part of this growth can be contributed to the growing appreciation for art, as well as new opportunities for artists to make a living in Sioux Falls.

“There’s not enough wall space in this town for all the talent that exists, so let’s try to squeeze a few artists in here and see what happens,” says Steve Bormes, a Sioux Falls artist and downtown business owner.

He has spent the past 9 years as owner of Rug and Relic at 8th and Railroad in downtown Sioux Falls. Bormes travels to Turkey several times a year, bringing back handmade rugs and world - class art to his gallery.
Bormes’ gallery is covered in both local and international art. The floors are stacked with rugs, and the walls are covered in paintings. Created pieces hang from the ceiling. But Bormes is just one of many who have contributed to the flourishing art community in Sioux Falls.
“I think you have to come here when you come to Sioux Falls, and you have to go next door to East Bank Gallery. You have to go to the Pavilion. There’s so many fantastic places. There are many new galleries opening up too; Exposure is one, it’s a co-op gallery - lots of people trying brand new things and trying to get a new crowd in,” says Bormes.
When visiting downtown Sioux Falls, it’s hard to miss the appreciation for art - from the sculpture walk to the galleries lining Phillips Avenue.
But Sioux Falls hasn’t always been such a creative center. While some West River communities have been known for their art for several years, it has only been in the past few years that creative – minded people have started making Sioux Falls home, rather than moving on to more urban communities.
Sioux Falls artist Liz Heeren is a South Dakota native. Large, bright paintings of nature and astronauts adorn her small studio in the downtown IPSO gallery, as she is fascinated with both the scientific and natural world. Over the past ten years, she has witnessed how the appreciation for art has grown in Sioux Falls.
“Slowly, but surely - especially within the last few years. I think you bring increased business interest to this area. You also attract because of the culture of downtown. Increased number of artists, increased opportunities to show their art,” says Heeren.
While she says that many creative minded people are now choosing to stay in Sioux Falls, Heeren, who is also an art professor at South Dakota Statue University, says that she values the desire for young adults to leave South Dakota and explore.

"You can make a name for yourself." - Artist Liz Heeren

“But then you also kind of hope that those people with those great talent recognize that being in SD although it’s not urban and may not have the same sort of art market for sales that some larger places do, it’s also a place where you can be recognized. You can make a name for yourself. In addition to that, and I think most importantly, I think that some artists are beginning to recognize that there is a true creative spirit around here,” says Heeren.
One thing that has contributed to that creative spirit is the opportunity for community involvement. Places like Zing and the Museum of Visual Materials offer various art and cooking classes to the public. Interactive Wine and Canvas events have also gained popularity.
Jessica Farley is Director of Education at the Museum of Visual Materials. She teaches a young girl the kitchen of the museum. The counter is covered in chocolate, and she gives step by step instructions on how to make cake pops. Farley teaches various art and cooking classes for both adults and children.
“Seeing these painting classes or the wine and canvas events that are going on, I think that kind of allows people who aren’t really artists or think that they’re creative, it gives them a chance to see what we’re all about, and maybe they’ll do something like that and see that it is kind of hard. Or maybe they’ll go to more art shows to get inspired,” says Farley.
Farley says art classes contribute to the artistic energy downtown.   Artist Steve Bormes says another aspect of that artistic energy is a sense of community between both artists and appreciators of art. Bormes uses the word “family” when describing the art community of Sioux Falls.
“The community of artists that we’ve discovered around here and started to participate with, everybody’s approachable. I can’t really think of any kind of medium that’s not represented around here and we all work together and do shows and try to get in the door at different places .It doesn’t feel very exclusive when you come here, you feel welcome,” says Bormes.  
Heeren agrees with Bormes. “I think that Steve is very right about that. I feel like you can say something like family or community when you get to know so many of the artists, and I feel like I am acquainted with many of the artists around here.”
Artist Liz Heeren moved to Sioux Falls in 2001.  She says as far as the future of the art community in Sioux Falls, artists all agree that it will continue to shape the city. From galleries and classes, to tattoo shops and motorcyclists creating choppers, the city has become a thriving center for creativity. According to Heeren, city leadership cares about the visual appeal and the development of the downtown area, and because of that she sees the artistic future of Sioux Falls to keep unfolding.
What do I hope for, what do I visualize? A really thriving downtown. And one that really considers how things appear, the visual nature of restoration, and buildings, and supporting art,” says Heeren.
New business opportunities and developed living and gallery spaces have helped the downtown area flourish. Steve Bormes is quick to recognize the potential that Sioux Falls has as an art destination.
“I think SF is going to become more of a destination for arts. It already has been and the most visible is probably sculpture walk, and it’s fantastic. The quality of art is amazing,” Bormes says.
Artists and art appreciators alike no longer have to look to urban areas for quality, world-class art opportunities. Sioux Falls can now offer that, and according to Bormes, at a more affordable art value. And more people are embracing art and getting involved in art education.

Click here for a complete overview of artistic opportunities and events in Sioux Falls.