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Arts & Life

Governor's Awards Honor SD Artists

Chynna Lockett

Every two years, South Dakota teachers, community leaders and creators are honored for their services in the arts. The 23rd Governor’s Awards and Living Indian Treasure Award brought people from all over the state to celebrate Wednesday.

Nearly 300 people gather in the capitol for the arts awards presentation banquet.

Representative Shawn Bordeaux introduces the recipient of the Living Indian Treasure Award.

?Bryan Akipa takes the stage and Bordeaux presents him with a star quilt.  Akipa makes traditional Native American flutes.

“I kind of started in 1975. I was studying painting under Oscar Howe. And he had a mallard flute in his studio and I was just so amazed by it. Back then if you if you wanted one you just had to make it. So I studied it, I drew it, I measured it and I puzzled out how to make it.”

Akipa says his work with the flute has been a cultural journey. He writes his own traditional flute music. 

“I started making my own songs, and I do like the old traditional ones. Maybe there’s a song that goes back to the origin of the flute, the very first flute song. So that’s one of the first songs I learned, so that’s always been a special song for me. But over the years I’ve made my own songs and I use a traditional format to make the song the same way. So I consider them traditional songs.”

He says it’s important to specify the each song for the performance.

“I’ll be playing eagle dreams.  A song I composed after my friend Kevin Locke and I were traveling. And on a high ridge we (saw) and eagle and it was snowing. And as we stopped to watch this eagle, it suddenly jumped up and spread its wings. And it looked like it disappeared into the clouds with the snow. And this always made an impression on me. So this song is telling this story of this journey and all the decisions we had to make.”

Akipa stands in front the crowd with the star quilt draped over his left shoulder and begins to play.  

Governor Dennis Daugaard introduces the Governor’s Awards. One recipient was Black Hills State University Photography Professor, Steve Babbit.

“I’ve said to my students over the years many times, I don’t care what you think, I care that you think.”

Babbit was acknowledged for Outstanding Service in Arts Education. He says he had many mentors to influence him throughout his life. Now he wants to do the same for his students.

Credit Chynna Lockett

“And that I get to be in some small way a part of that. Helping sometimes, encouraging sometimes, watching success happen, helping students through failure—these are all transformative events that I get to be a part of. I don’t think of it as a small thing at all. I think of it as a really important, really honorable thing to do with one’s life.”

Babbit started teaching at Black Hills State in 1994. There were two photography classes offered when Babbit began. He expanded the curriculum to include thirteen classes. The school recently started offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography.

“South Dakota has an incredible number of dedicated, hardworking, devoted teachers who deserve an award every single day. They’re not in it for the money; they do it because they love it.”

Babbit says he is honored to be recognized among so many great teachers.

“Our recipient of the Governor’s Award for distinction and creative achievement is architect Ward Whitwam who changed the landscape of South Dakota with innovative designs for schools, churches, elder care facilities, cooperate offices and private residences.”

93 year old Ward Whitwam is originally from Watertown. He joined the Army during WWII then went to the University of Berkley in California to study architecture. He says he decided to move home after school.

“My college friends couldn’t believe, ‘Ward you’re going back to South Dakota’? I said yes I am. I said I want to open my own office. And I did open my own office in 1953. So I’m still practicing 64 years later.” 

He says he’s best known for creating the teepee lodge polls at rest stops across the state.

“I think it was President Johnson and his wife. His wife said let’s try to show history, the history of the state. And would you believe it, South Dakota was one of the few states that actually did something. And I thought what better way is (there) to show the lodge polls of the teepees.”

Whitwam says he is flattered to receive the same award as other great architects.

Credit Chynna Lockett
South Dakota sculptor Dale Lamphere designed the Governor’s Awards for 2017.

“I’ve had a wonderful life with my wife; three wonderful and successful children. At 93 years old, as I move into my twilight years, tears come to my eyes. For I can see in the future my grandchildren at one of my projects saying grandpa did this.”

Graham & Anna Marie Thatcher, Michael Pangburn and the Mobridge City Council also received awards for their work in the arts.

Click play below to hear the full version of Akipa’s flute performance.