Sculpture show to come back bigger in 2021

Gray Hughes

Canceling Sculpture in the Hills (which was supposed to be held in late June) earlier in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t an easy decision for the Hill City Arts Council.

The decision to cancel it was unanimous, said Mackenzie Swanson, executive director of the arts council, but the five-member board was obviously disappointed.

“It stunk,” she said.

Sculpture in the Hills is the arts council’s largest event of the year, Swanson said, and it brings in many people from all over the Midwest and western United Sates.

But for that very reason, the arts council had to cancel it, Swanson said.

“You can’t have 3,000 people in an enclosed tent right now,” she said.

The show already had a few sponsors at that point, and calling them to tell them the show had been canceled for the year was not an easy call for Swanson.

Swanson said, first and foremost, she offered the sponsors a full refund, but, to her pleasure, the vast majority of the sponsors decided they would rather see their money used for next year’s show. A couple of the sponsors, too, allocated money to the quilt show.

The move to reallocate money for next year’s show was unexpected to Swanson because, as she said, everyone is having a hard time due to COVID-19.

Another difficult call for Swanson was calling the sculptors who were set to participate in the show.

The deadline for entries had already passed, and Swanson said the sculptors’ booth fees were refunded.

“They were disappointed but with an overwhelming ‘we think you made the right decision,’ so that was helpful,” Swanson said. “That eased our hearts a little bit that they were understanding and gracious about that.”

But looking toward the future, the show will be back but with some big changes about which Swanson and Randy Berger, a member of the arts council board of directors, are excited.

Berger said he had already wanted to change the sculpture show. This year would have been the 13th edition of the sculpture show, Berger said, so it’s a good year to skip due to the number 13 being considered to be unlucky by some.

Next year, the arts council is going to “switch things up a little bit,” Swanson said.

Next year, Swanson said the show will be a design conference that would feature not only sculptors but also interior designers, architects, furniture designers, flat art, symposiums and classes.

“Hopefully, we can get into this and have a tent on each side (of Main Street) or if the (alley behind the Hill City Senior Center) ever gets done we could have it there,” Berger said. “I would like to see more demonstrations and symposiums and really start to open this thing up. Even landscaping is an art form. Someone could do in a parking lot the different pavers techniques and a combination of grasses and sculptures.”

Tentatively, the show is to be called the Black Elk Design Conference. Berger said he has already asked and received permission from the Black Elk family for the conference to be called that.

The main goal of the arts council with the Sculpture in the Hills show had been to bring quality art, not just quantity, Swanson said.

“The quality art has been the sculpture show, for sure,” Swanson said. “That’s a juried show, not just anybody can send in their stuff and set up a booth, you have to go through a process in order to be accepted and we really pride ourselves in bringing high quality art. We will continue that, of course, in the design conference next year, where we will continue to have our sculpture show and more and it will be quality.”

As for the next event held by the arts council — the Hill City Quilt Show — as of right now that show is still on, Swanson said.

The arts council will do their very best to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for the show and will purchase hand sanitizer and other protective measures.

The arts council, Swanson said, is considering moving more quilts outside.

Doing this would not only allow for more social distancing but business owners could be involved with the quilts.

“Our vendors are still coming back, and they’ll automatically be 10 feet apart because that is how big their booth is,” Swanson said. “That makes it easy. We are really excited about all of that. The quilt show is still on. We have several vendors.”

Overall, Swanson wants to ensure Hill City remains an arts town.

“I Googled Hill City the other day just to see what comes up,” she said. “And when you look on Wikipedia, it mentions the arts council first and foremost in that we are an art-related town. As the arts council, we are really trying to ramp that up. I really admire Hill City for really not — even in the last 10 years—trying harder not to be another T-shirt and tourist trap type of place. Bringing quality education programs, quality art, quality people to deliver that.”

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