Arts Alive | Summer 2020 - South Dakota

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New video productions capture panorama of South Dakota arts


Dalton Coffey filming Dr. Craig Howe for the CAIRNS Takuwe exhibition video.

A set of video works, shot and produced by Dalton Coffey and newly posted on the Arts South Dakota website, brings together many of the unique elements of the state’s creative scene. The five new videos focus on the South Dakota Symphony, the community arts group in Faulkton, Native flutist Bryan Akipa, the Takuwe exhibition from CAIRNS and the voices of pandemicisolated artists working—and creating—from home. “I like working with arts groups,” Coffey said. “They let me be an artist—they don’t hire me, they commission me to create video art.” The project began with conversations between Coffey and leaders at Arts South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council. While there were specific topics they hoped to cover in the new video series, the organizations were willing to let Coffey chart his own course. “Great art is made by artists, but discovered by everyone else,” Coffey said. “Everybody has a channel to get to art. I get to use all forms of creative media—music, words, images—and the final product can evolve at every step in the process.” As a long-time string musician with a background in performing bluegrass, Coffey brings a rhythm and a tempo to his video creations. He says his work is informed by music, as he edits to music and sometimes scores the video productions with music he’s written himself. The lyrical quality of the video productions, capturing a wide range of styles and voices from the South Dakota arts community, may arise from the unique time we’re all living in, Coffey said.

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“I want to carbon-date the art from this period,” he said. “We can time-stamp the work artists are making right now, so that it speaks to us later of a very different time.” That concept is especially strong in a video based on conversations with five South Dakota artists on their strategies for staying strong and creative through pandemic quarantine and the loss of traditional audiences and markets. “I went to a dark place as an artist when this all began,” Coffey said, “so I posed the question to the artists on the video, ‘What would you tell Dalton Coffey about coping with all this?’ It was an artist-to-artist conversation, but I want non-artists and other artists to hear and respond to the voices on the video.” While each of the videos evolved in its own way, Coffey said that strong creative moments occurred in each production. “A turning point for me was in Sisseton, where I met with Bryan Akipa,” Coffey said. “The plan was to add Bryan to a larger, community video. Jane Rasmussen mentioned this 150-year-old church where Bryan’s grandmother used to play piano, so we went out there, just sight-seeing.” Akipa took boards off the door and started playing his flute in the center of the old church as swallows swooped in through an open window. “My sound man and I looked at each other and knew we had something special,” Coffey said. “It was a moment. That’s the sense of discovery that makes art so powerful.” You can view the videos on the Arts South Dakota website at

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