90th year of the Fine Arts program calls for a Celebration of Excellence
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90th year of the Fine Arts program calls for a Celebration of Excellence

The first Celebration of Excellence honored 10 people in categories including outstanding alumni, friends and educators, as well as a special recognition award to Oscar Howe.

Bruce Kelley, Dean of Fine Arts, was one of the organizers of the Celebration of Excellence.  

“So we have three general categories: outstanding educators, outstanding friends and outstanding alumni. And so in each of those categories, we’re honoring three people,” Kelley said.

This year is the 90th year of USD’s College of Fine Arts, which was created in 1931. It was time to start thanking some people, Kelley said.

“These are amazing people that just had an impact wherever they have gone. Either they’re alumni who have gone on to incredible professional achievements, or they’re educators who have really built a foundation of excellence who have gone to college, or they are friends who have given their time, talent or resources to make us who we are,” Kelley said.

The Celebration of Excellence reception and ceremony included various musical performances.

“Not only are we honoring these individuals, but we have performances by the University of South Dakota marching band, the Rawlins String Trio, an amazing performance by one of our music theater students, and then we’re ending with a Lakota drum group,” Kelley said. 

Ruth Lingen, USD Alumni and winner of the outstanding alumni award, graduated in 1980 with a fine arts degree with an emphasis in graphic arts. 

“It’s honoring achievements you’ve made so far in your life. Excellent stuff. So it’s really the fact that I’m not only a master printer that’s graduated from University of South Dakota, but I’ve also collaborated with about 80 different writers, artists and poets. I work in New York, New York, at several different print studios,” Lingen said.

Lingen mainly works with printmaking and said she learned a lot from the USD fine arts program.  

“I will say, being back in the building has been great and it’s really fantastic. Great teachers give a great experience. You can do anything when you set your mind to it and future success.”

Wayne Knutson was one of the educators honored at the Celebration of Excellence. He was an instructor of English at USD and is in the South Dakota Hall of Fame. 

Wayne Knutson’s son, John Knutson, and USD alumnus Jane O’Brian accepted the award for the late USD educator. 

“He even moved up to the world of being a dean, and he was the vice president here at USD,” John Knutson said. “You would see him in the Fine Arts Building connecting with students and the professors. He really enjoyed that aspect, the connection, creation and documentation.”

John Knutson said his father played a major part in keeping the the National Music Museum here in Vermillion.

Amy Fill, John A. Day Gallery director, helped create the wooden plaque sculpture honoring the award winners. 

“We tried to find the material that would be a seamless blend-in with the rest of the hallways,” Fill said. “I guess I really wanted something that looked like it was emerging from the wall, and that’s kind of how we went about it.”

All of the wood was sourced locally, a specific choice to help artistically convey the award winners’ excellence, Fill said. Brass name plates were also included in the design. Each year, as more people are honored with awards of excellence, more name plates will be added to the design. 

“I thought that was really interesting to see how the honorees were talking about people that have been part of this community, so thinking of having materials that also represented our community was important to me. As an artist, material choices are very important,” Fill said.

USD students and alumni Natalie Higgason, Levi Sternburg and Courtney Lavallie helped Fill create the sculpture. 

“I like collaborating with people. I like talking to and listening to what the committee had in mind and their ideals. These kinds of projects are really fun for me, and then working with students gives them professional opportunities too,” Fill said. 

Doug and Sue Tuve are also among the Celebration of Excellence award winners in the “outstanding friends” category. They have been donors to USD as well as Chamber Singer chaperones. 

“The arts are so important. They add something to all of our lives. They provide meaning in ways that other walks can’t. If you’re feeling down, and you hear a piece of music, or you see a painting that just inspires you, I mean, nothing else does that. I think the support of the arts is critical,” Sue Tuve said. 

Doug Tuve said USD has played a major role in their lives and would like to give back in whatever ways they can.

“I think of two words when I think of  art. One is ‘expression’ and another is ‘impression.’ We all express ourselves in a variety of different ways. The fine arts allows us to express ourselves, our thoughts and feelings,” Doug Tuve said. “I think of ‘impression’ because art expresses other people’s ideas to us. We can get a sense of somebody else’s experiences from ours. It’s a very important and essential part of our culture.”

The Hall of Fame Celebration of Excellence recipients include Janet Brown, Andre P. Larson and Ruth Lingen for Outstanding Alumni, Wayne S. Knutson, Wilber Moore Stilwell and Frank J. Aiello for Outstanding Educators, Evelyn Schlenker, Doug and Sue Tuve and Tom Schaack for Outstanding Friends, and the Special Recognition was awarded to Oscar Howe.

“As we think and honor the people that have laid such a great foundation for us tonight, we recognize and challenge our students to go out and excel as well,” Kelley said.