• Former SDSU theater director present at council’s creation
BROOKINGS – A longtime Brookings resident, James L. “Jim” Johnson, has been named to the South Dakota Arts Council, it was announced this week.
Johnson, the former director of theater at South Dakota State University, was appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to a three-year term on the council. He succeeds Larry Lyngstad of Pierre, who had served on the council since 2003.
Established in 1966 and funded by the Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, the South Dakota Arts Council (SDAC) is a state agency serving South Dakotans and their communities through the arts.
The council makes the arts accessible throughout the state by providing grants, services and information to artists, arts organizations, schools and the public.
Johnson, who holds the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies and Theater, headed SDSU’s theater program for 27 years before retiring in 2003. He also served as administrative chief for the Prairie Repertory Theatre.
Johnson said he was notified of his SDAC appointment as he was returning from a theater production in the Black Hills.
“I was alone in the car, and I got a call on my cell phone,” he recalls. “When they said, ‘This is the Governor’s Office’ I was a little surprised – I immediately looked at my speedometer.”
His service as a board member brings Johnson full circle with the arts council, since he was present at the organization’s birth some 46 years ago.
Then heading the theater department at Dakota State University in Madison, Johnson represented the school in a statewide gathering of college and university arts specialists.
“The intent was to see if there would be enough support from the colleges and universities to create a large network for supporting the arts,” he says.
“The whole thrust was to bring the arts out into the communities.”
He responded to the challenge, and in the following year, 1967, his Dakota State players created one of the very first touring companies for the new council.
“We did ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and went out into the schools,” Johnson says. “About the same time, USD did a major touring program – ‘Hello, Dolly!’ I think. But we were the state’s first touring theater companies, outside of groups like the Guthrie.”
That first foray launched the council’s arts in education program, he says, soon followed by individual artists that included hoop dancers, potters and theater specialists teaching kids the art of makeup or how to deliver a line onstage.
“It’s had a tremendous impact,” Johnson says. “Thousands have been touched by these programs.”
Besides its role in the schools, the state arts council plays a role in community arts organizations like Brookings’, offering challenge grants to help them fund their own arts programs.
“Through the state arts council, many communities get funding to support their community theater, arts festivals and orchestras, or to bring in visiting artists,” Johnson noted. “It’s a considerable amount of money they distribute.”
The Brookings resident spent his entire professional career in the arts and continues his active participation in retirement.
Johnson began his academic career in 1964 at Penn State, then moved to South Dakota to become head of speech and drama at Dakota State. He left Madison to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, but returned to South Dakota – this time joining the SDSU faculty – in 1973.
In his years heading State’s theater program, he took part in 78 major productions. In 2001, in honor of his long and outstanding service, he was presented with the Governor’s Award for the Arts.
Although he’s been retired for nine years and now lists “traveling” as his main pastime, Johnson remains active in theater, serving as a board member for the Black Hills Playhouse.
Johnson was also a board member for South Dakotans for the Arts, and he and his wife, Ardis, served as the 2005-06 co-chairs for the Brookings Area United Way campaign.
Johnson was nominated for the council post by another Brookings resident and a colleague at SDSU, Zeno Wicks III.
The governor also appointed Justine Estes of Rapid City, who has long been active in the arts community, to succeed Arts Council member Linda Anderson of Rapid City, who had resigned. And Daugaard reappointed Brian Bonde of Sioux Falls, Mary Bordeaux of Pine Ridge, Lynne Byrne of Sioux Falls and Lynda Clark of Rapid City.
The South Dakota Arts Council is part of the Department of Tourism.
Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@-brookingsregister.com.