By Jim Speirs, Executive Director, Arts South Dakota

One of the questions that arises each year about this time, especially among arts advocates, is the question of government support for cultural activities and programs. I’ve heard from some people who think that private individuals, foundations and companies should provide the funding that keeps the arts accessible throughout the state, with no public dollars included in the mix. The problem is that, especially in states like South Dakota, that scenario would practically guarantee that most of our schools, towns and populations would have far less access to creative experiences.

Public funding is an essential element for a wide range of services that we take for granted. Could philanthropic sources and private corporations make education for all Americans a reality? Could we have effective public safety without tax dollars working to fund police departments? What about public libraries, fire departments or enforcement of building codes? We rely on government support to provide a standard of living that we consider reasonable for our citizens—and access to the arts is a vital part of that quality of life.

Public funding assures equity of access. While some cities in our country may have private resources to keep cultural programs strong and growing, smaller and more rural states like South Dakota simply don’t have the population base or the private sources of revenue to make sure we can all experience the arts. We do have generous local and regional philanthropic citizens and organizations, but those benefactors are also supporting medical research, scientific exploration and so many other causes in addition to creative components. 

The government-funded South Dakota Arts Council supports only the arts, often with small grants that get artists and arts organizations started and provide seed money for programming statewide. The first dollars come from government-supported SDAC grants, making possible matching funds in the form of private contributions. Public funding provides credibility, viability and visibility to encourage and enhance private support. 

Economically challenged communities, counties and populations should not have lesser arts opportunities. Government support for the arts ensures equal access to the arts for all South Dakotans.

To learn more about the importance of public support for the arts, go to