Honors Ceremony Introduction (Youtube)
Ruth’s life in the arts world stems from saying “yes” to opportunities. Each positive response brought her new directions, new friends, and new cultural roads. All were connected to strengthening cultural awareness for the public and to opening doors for artists in all disciplines.
Perhaps her role was set when she started piano lessons at age five, or later cello lessons and playing in the community orchestra. At the University of South Dakota she continued the lessons and played in the orchestra while earning a BA degree in sociology.
After working in Sioux Falls and Denver for two years, in 1956 she moved to Rapid City and married Jim Brennan whom she met during her senior year of college. They had two sons, Tim and Greg. A third son died in infancy. Her husband, Jim, died in 1986.
The 1957 purchase of a Rapid City Concert Association ticket led her to selling association tickets, chairing its membership drive, and finally to organization president.
A career-changing event in 1965 came when Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts to provide money to states to re-grant. The South Dakota Arts Council was created to comply with the federal regulations. The Rapid City Arts Council soon followed when local arts groups were invited to participate in its formation. Ruth attended this new venture on the Concert Association’s behalf.
That was her initiation into the field of arts administration, paid and volunteer.
Probably the most important early “yes” into the art world came in 1968 when she became the Rapid City Journal’s part-time arts columnist. The position grew to writing promotional articles, maintaining an arts calendar, and critiquing concerts and plays for the next 15 years. For Ruth it was a fabulous way to meet artists in all disciplines.
Meanwhile the Rapid City Arts Council moved ahead. In 1971 Council responsibilities took a giant step forward when local philanthropist Art Dahl asked the board to develop the infrastructure for an arts center he planned to build and donate to the city. At Dahl’s additional request, the Arts Council agreed to administer the building. By late 1974 the Dahl Fine Arts Center opened for the public.
By that time Ruth was arts council president. Her sons were in high school; she had “extra” hours on her hands. Those hours were absorbed in learning to run an arts center. When her term ended in 1975, she was offered the newly created position of executive director, a job she held until 1998.
The center functioned as a “face” for the arts by its ambitious programming. Visual art exhibits were drawn from work by local, regional, and national artists. Community theater and the local artists’ guild rented spaces in the Dahl to expand the offerings. The Center truly became the home for the arts in Rapid City.
It produced the visual arts component of the Heritage Festival, established an annual Jazz and Blues Festival, and produced a club-style series featuring nationally known jazz and blues musicians. By creating several programs for children, arts education for young people grew.
In 1991, the Rapid City Arts Council received a $35,000 grant from the Bush Foundation to create a community cultural plan—the first grant of this type awarded by the foundation. The community-wide effort was adopted by the City Council in 1993. Subsequently the plan was used as a national model. More recently, Ruth supported the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV: In the State of South Dakota study.
Through Ruth’s efforts in working closely with the community and the city, the Dahl was in a healthy position for its major expansion in the new century. Aware of the work needed for the coming capital campaign she retired from her position in December 1998. Then she was asked to co-chair the campaign.
Back in the early 1980s Ruth led a statewide conversation for the state arts council to determine the interest and need for a community art council network. The positive response resulted in a network under the umbrella of the South Dakotans for the Arts. The organization now includes additional arts organizations and continues its role in the state.
In 1987 Governor George Mickelson appointed Ruth to the South Dakota Arts Council board, an appointment she maintained until 2010 through succeeding governors. She served as board president for five years. This service offered a great opportunity to learn about the arts and artists statewide, to know the possibilities, and to help lead the state’s arts constituency forward.
During these years and to the present, Ruth has served in various capacities on numerous arts and cultural boards including the Black Hills Playhouse (president), Rapid City Historic Commission, Allied Arts Fund (vice-president), South Dakotans for the Arts, South Dakota Art Museum (president), National Music Museum, Black Hills Symphony League (president), The Journey Museum (Search Committee chair), Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting (secretary).
She coordinated the National Symphony Orchestra’s 10-day statewide tour in 2002, facilitated South Dakota community cultural planning in the early 1980s, and since 1999 has coordinated dance residencies in the state. Most recently she served on artist jurying committees for Rapid City’s Main Street Square and the Rapid City Regional Airport.
Ruth received acknowledgment for the work she loves including the Black Hills Chamber of Commerce Rushmore Honors Award, Ruth Brennan Day by Governor Bill Janklow and Mayor Jim Shaw upon her Dahl Center retirement in 1998, and in 2011 she received the Governor’s Award in the Arts from Governor Dennis Daugaard.
But what goes around comes around. Now she’s back where she started-- writing an arts column for the Rapid City Journal
Ruth believes that we owe something to the community in which we live; that it’s a personal responsibility to make the community better. Her parents set the example in Sioux Falls where she grew up. Her father and mother, Bill and Loucille Howalt, were volunteer community leaders.
Life wasn’t all work. Ruth’s love of travel has been rewarded through many trips around the world, several of which were music-based in European countries.
Now she looks forward to spending time with her two sons, daughter-in-law, Sophie and two grandchildren, Conor and Isabel.