Brookings No. 7 on Arts-Vibrant Cities list

City named to national arts-vibrant list for first time


BROOKINGS – Brookings has gained national attention for its commitment to the arts and was named to the fifth annual list of Most Arts-Vibrant Cities in the United States, announced Darla Biel, chair of the Brookings Public Arts Commission.

“Being recognized and named on the Arts Vibrancy Index is a tremendous honor for Brookings,” Biel said. “We always say Brookings is someplace special.”

Brookings debuted at No. 7 on the list for small cities, which covers those with 10,000 to 50,000 population. The cities, in order from the top are Jackson, Wyoming; Summit Park, Utah; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Bennington, Vermont; Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts; Hudson, New York; Brookings; Oneonta, New York; Greenfield Town, Massachusetts; and Breckenridge, Colorado. 

“We launched the Arts Vibrancy Index five years ago as a tool to help arts leaders, businesses, government agencies and others understand the overall intensity and capacity of their communities’ arts and culture sector,” said Dr. Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts, in a press release.

SMU DataArts also released the lists for large cities and medium cities.

The top five large cities are New York-Jersey City-White Plains, N.Y-N.J.; San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, California; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, California; Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota-Wisconsin; and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia.

The top five medium cities are Santa Fe, New Mexico; Pittsfield, Massachusetts, San Rafael, California; Missoula, Montana, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Exciting news

“It’s a big deal,” Biel said of Brookings making the list. “We’re the only one on the list in South Dakota.”

The lists are a research project done by SMU DataArts, and it is funded by The National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University, Biel said.

“One of the kind of cool things about it is that it’s data driven, so it’s not just their opinion, but they’re really looking at data around arts and culture events, specifically how much grant money is given to the community to support the arts, how many visitors we attract,” Biel said.

“Things that they named in the description of Brookings (were) the South Dakota Art Museum, the Summer Arts Festival, some of those things that are already out there,” Biel said.

The one thing they weren’t aware of was the Public Arts Fund. Brookings has the state’s only dedicated public arts fund, she noted.

“When I told them about that, they were very interested,” Biel said, adding they also took notice of the city’s partnership with South Dakota State University on the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center.

“It’s pretty unique to have a world-class facility like that and then also have our schoolchildren having the ability to use it, too,” she said.

All that adds up to a good showing.

“So what this does is it gives us data-driven validation of what we already know, which is that Brookings is a great place to live, and it’s very artistically vibrant,” Biel said. What that helps the city do is “to communicate the value of the arts and economic impact they have.”

She thinks Brookings has been handed a great opportunity to look long-range and strategically plan “for us to be a destination place.” 

Art isn’t just having something pretty for people to look at, she said. It can be an economic driver, too.

Some of Brookings’ company on the list – Jackson, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge – “are great tourist destinations,” and mentioning Brookings in the same breath can put people in mind to come here, Biel said.

“It brings in tourism. If somebody comes to town to see or attend an arts event, they’re likely gonna stay in a hotel, they’re gonna spend money in restaurants. They might go downtown and do some shopping. They might love the community and decide to send their child here to college or maybe even retire here,” Biel said.

Making the list will help Brookings keep moving in the right direction to encourage grant makers and donors that the city is committed to the arts. That in turn will attract more arts tourists who want to visit communities with intriguing art collections.

“It’s like telling people we’re the real deal,” Biel said.

Arts Commission

A couple of years ago, the Brookings City Council established the Public Arts Fund and the Public Arts Commission to oversee it.

The Public Arts Fund is funded by money set aside from the city’s budget. That money is used to purchase public art and to maintain and repair it. 

The Public Arts Commission chooses the art and authorizes repairs. The commission is made up of community members, arts professionals and volunteers.

The commission can purchase smaller pieces of art on its own, but for larger, more expensive pieces, the commission would have to put out an open call for artists to submit their work and then choose the artwork.

Some pieces the city already owns is the owl sculpture outside of the library and the wooden sculpture called “The Chase” in Hillcrest Park, as well as others. Stickwork at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota and the Common Thread ball sculpture by Garth Britzman are temporary pieces of artwork.

In July, the Public Arts Commission wrote the Brookings Public Arts Guidelines, which were passed by the city council. In the past, there were no guidelines for maintaining the city’s artwork. The guidelines have a section on maintenance, so the schedule is organized and systematic, Biel said.

It’s important to check the artwork regularly, she said, because it can be dangerous to the public if a sculpture is damaged or needing repairs. 

The artwork falls under the Parks, Recreation & Forestry department because its employees work in the vicinity of many of the pieces and often are the first to know if a sculpture is showing wear, tear or damage from Mother Nature.

There’s even a section on how the commission is to handle donations of art and what criteria they would use in determining what to accept.

“It’s kind of an exciting time. Brookings’ already done a lot with the arts and that’s been recognized in that Arts Vibrancy Index, but we’re also poised and ready … to start really thinking long-term and making some investments for the future so we can continue to be vibrant,” Biel said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at