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Yankton Area Arts Makes Impact on Community vBy Julie Eickhoff Having been a resident of Yankton forever, I’ve heard of the Yankton Area Arts Association (YAA) but have never really known what their mission entails. I set out to their art gallery located at 508 Douglas, a beautifully renovated historic building known as GAR Hall (Grand Army of the Republic) that has been standing since 1887, long before my time. Julie Amsberry, YAA Executive Director, welcomes me into the peaceful gallery lined with beautiful prints from a local artist. She explains the role of YAA as “a 43-year-old organization with a mission to educate, advocate and integrate the arts into the community.” She explains how the organization holds many free programs, trying to assure that art is accessible and available to everyone, regardless of status. Their programs are free for the entire community, not just the YAA members. She smiles, “Art is for everyone. We want to make sure that art is for everyone and it’s accessible to everyone. We’re here for the community.” Julie Amsberry started with YAA in 2014 and her role as the Executive Director entails a little bit of everything. She schedules artists for the gallery displays, communicates with the artists and schedules the events for the year. Craig Sherman is the part-time assistant director and plays a major role in the Summer Arts Festival. They also have a small board of directors and many volunteers that help with events. She credits the volunteers for their help with the organization, stating, “We have a ton of volunteers and we couldn’t do what we do without them. They keep us going.” YAA provides many benefits for the community. When the art program was cut at the Yankton Middle School a few years ago, YAA instilled the Artists in Schools and Communities program, made possible through the SD Arts Council. Cheryl Peterson Halsey, an artist from Springfield, led weeklong workshops with the middle school students during the few years where there was not an art teacher. During this time, YAA also advocated for reinstating an art teacher into the school by taking part in a letter writing campaign to the school board. Amsberry explains that her vision of the project mimicked the mail bag scene from the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” where bags and bags of letters are brought in. The middle school now has an art teacher in their program. Their recent initiative is “Art Adventure,” in place of art classes in the elementary schools. Because the elementary schools don’t have a specific art-class teacher, the YAA has a cohort of retired teachers that teach art to the students. She sees that this program dually inspires the teachers as well as the students. The school district covers the cost of supplies and YAA pays a stipend to the teachers taking part. YAA annually holds a Youth Exhibit in March, celebrating Youth Art Month. The student art display showcases work from a selected school for 5-6 weeks of public viewing. Last year art work from the Yankton Public and Sacred Heart middle schools were displayed and this year they hosted the Yankton High School, displaying categories of sculpture, woodworking/cabinetry, drawing and painting. The display for 2019 will be Yankton Middle School and Sacred Heart Middle School. This is one of Amsberry’s favorite exhibits as she loves seeing the students bring their families to the event, excited to show and explain their work. “Art is fun,” she states. “(The students) don’t have to think about all the other benefits they are getting, like better test scores and better attendance at schools.” Amsberry explains the difference that she has seen in the art work over time. “The difference between two years ago when we had the high school and this year was unbelievable. The quality of work has increased so much and the connections that kids are making between their world and expressing it through the artwork and being able to explain the artwork and what they were thinking throughout the process, the critical thinking…it’s exciting.” The YAA is happy to give artists a place to work, hold their workshops and learn from each other. They have regular art groups that meet at the gallery, including Connecting Artists, River City Area Woodcarvers and the Yankton Area Photography Club. Amsberry explains to me that they are finishing up details on their annual Kids Art Fest, where the YAA partners with local organizations to offer free make and take art projects for elementary age children. The event, held annually in May, is attended by more than 200 children and their families. During one of her first years with the Kids Art Fest, she recalls a parent approaching her and reflecting upon fond memories of their own experience at the same event as a child. The biggest YAA event each year is the Summer Arts Festival, held in conjunction with Riverboat Days. The event this year will be held on August 17, 18 and 19. Approximately 120 artists are attending this year. This is a free event for the community and allows the artists to display and sell their goods. 12vHERVOICEvJULY/AUGUST 2018

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