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Kim Konikow talks North Dakota Council on the Arts' programs, grants, and future plans

The executive director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, Kim Konikow, joined Prebys on Classics host Scott Prebys in a conversation about the Council's programs, grants, and future as Konikow prepares to retire this year. Listen to their conversation above.

Programs and grants mentioned:

Full Transcript

Scott: We are very fortunate to have Kim Konikow. Now if that name does not ring a bell for you, Kim is the executive director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts. If you are an artist or perhaps a politician, you would know that name. Scott: Good morning, Kim.

Kim: Good morning, Scott. I'm really pleased to be here today.

Scott: Yeah, it's an absolute pleasure.

Kim: We’re going to have fun.

Scott: You are one of the hardest people to, you attend a lot of meetings.

Kim: I attend a lot of meetings. I would like to say I attend a lot of arts events and productions. And unfortunately, the meetings take a bit of precedence when you work with the state.

Scott: Well, you know, you have one of the most unique positions in the state. You have to work with artists, you have to work with politicians, you have to work with bureaucrats, and you also have to make sure as executive director that the very diverse art spectrum is represented both financially and artistically. So you have to make a lot of people happy. Are you successful?

Kim: You know, I have learned to love my job. I think I was a little surprised at first when I started. I remember during my interview that there was a comment, maybe two, about, you know, you have to go before the legislature and ask for your budget and defend the Arts Council every two years. And I think that kind of slid by my consciousness about what kind of an effort that that would take. But yeah, I do feel like the Arts Council has been very successful, in particular of late. We've climbed some pretty big mountains and made some great headway.

Scott: I just can't think of anything more diverse than talking to artists who have their own personality and then bureaucrats or legislators that have a completely different personality. And so it must be crazy for you to have to be able to communicate with both of them because it has to be challenging.

Kim: Well, before I go into any meeting, I literally have to kind of just calm down and breathe for a minute and say, who am I speaking with? And what's my goal? And then make sure I have that hat on when I start the meeting.

Scott: Exactly my next question: How many hats do you have? And at the end of the day when you've had to meet with both artists and politicians, again, I cannot stress opposite ends of the spectrum, you must be just totally exhausted.

Kim: I am pretty tired. And then, you know, come Friday, I think to myself, so Saturday is the nothing day. Saturday is the, oh, maybe I'll get to my laundry and possibly look at the grocery list or cook something or maybe see someone. But it is a very diverse job. And I think what we realize is that as an executive director, I oversee an entire agency. So there is the budgeting that I deal with my fiscal officer on and that relates not only to just our payments going in and out, but it's also about grants going in and out, the payments of grants to artists and arts organizations, and that happens on an ongoing basis. And then we get into the biennial fiscal management that has to be prepared both for the governor's strategic plan and then moving on to presentations by the legislature.

Then there is the program management, so that's the other hat. We have 10 grant programs and with given that we have 10 grant programs, in each, there are guidelines and applications and really looking at the purpose of each grant and are we reaching diverse populations? Are we in rural communities? Are we helping in the cities? Are we working with individuals? We're actually one of the few states that can give to individual artists. So that's that's a great thing that we have.

And then there is the Arts Across the Prairie program, which is a a whole universe unto itself, but with the creation of eight large-scale installations in rural communities, there's so much detail that has to be tended to that we hired a program manager this year. So that's helping to relieve some of my burden. And then there's the board of directors who require some care and feeding and attention. And I think as you know, my position is vacant. So we're in a search for a new executive director and that is requiring a lot of time as I work with HR to make sure that we're approaching things correctly as an agency.

So there's a lot of different things that happen during the day and I don't often get work done. I move from meeting to meeting and take notes and sort things through and then when it's time to write or think I have to actually schedule time where I block off the calendar and don't touch my emails.

Scott: Well, you know in your position you get to see a lot of things that normal people don't get to see. The arts in North Dakota, not always music, not always art, not always dancing, but there's a whole plethora of more non-mainstream projects that you deal with. People and artists who need funding but aren't necessarily in the mainstream of arts funding. I would love for you to talk about some of those more interesting ones that in your tenure here have come across that most of us would not. I mean we all know dancing and music and art galleries and things like that, but the arts consist of much more than that.

Kim: And I would say that when I first came and I looked around at those arts that we're all so familiar with — music, art, dancing, theater — what I was most interested in or attracted to, drawn by, was some of the work that we do with our folklorist, Troy Geist, and he kind of looks at the cultural heritage and the passing on of art forms. So he has a master apprenticeship program where you have masters who are adept and from communities who we might not normally see apply.

A silversmith, a saddle maker, a beader, a flautist, who then is passing on those traditions that have developed here in North Dakota to younger apprentices where then that is being really absorbed into their culture and being made available and growing. So his program is just a wonderful, amazing thing that we do. And another program is called Art for Life, which matches senior facilities with an arts community center in a community and then also hooks up with intergenerational work through a school. But we're talking about far more than cotton balls and tongue depressors at a senior facility. We're bringing in real artists and they are working on real projects, which include many activities, including quilting and painting and dancing and just really working to bring arts into elders' lives that are not often considered. They're kind of on the side and so they're not considered - Well, is that art? We say yes, it is and it's art that's really reaching a goal of opening doors for these elders. Yeah, absolutely.

Scott: You mentioned the silversmith and I have been very fortunate to have been the recipient of a Governor's Art Award and that memory consists of a wonderful-

Kim: Gorgeous award.

Scott: And I can't, it has a necklace, but I don't dare wear it. It's prominently displayed downstairs in my man room, you know. In your man room.

Kim: Nelda Schrupp, who is a Lakota artist and she has been designing those. They've changed a little bit over the years, but it's such a beautiful design with sterling and gemstones and it's on a lariat. So yes, you could wear it, but a lot of people feel it's better to just leave it in the safety of its award box.

Scott: Yeah, what a beautiful piece of memorabilia in that. It's genius in that you selected that. Every other award is a trophy or a plaque, you know, and I think that stands partly to the significance of people who do what you do, trying to make things a little bit special that are just not the run-of-the-mill ordinary things.

Kim: You know, the just to follow up on that, so my position is one of 58 in the country. So that's the 50 states and U.S. territories and I will say that almost all of them have Governor's Awards for the Arts and they almost all do something that is created by an artist rather than a trophy or a plaque.

Scott: So you sit in the chair that there's a long line of people who want and need and ask for funding. So people see you as a person who's dispersing that funding, but also the other side of your chair is that you have to also seek out and provide the funding that goes into our state account. And of course you have to become an asset resource for that. What are the challenges of art funding in this country right now?

Kim: It's very tough and I would say that, you know, for us there's a certain amount of stability, and this is true with all state arts agencies, but 50% of our funding comes from — and that's not a good formula for this particular biennium — but normally it's 50% of our funding is mandated from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal state agency, and that must be matched by the state legislature.

And in the past we have been very, very close. There is, I want to give a shout out to John Nelson because as the chair of the Appropriations Committee that we go before in the House, we usually have less issues in the Senate than we do in the House, but in the House he has made it very clear to his colleagues around the room that we will match that money because we want the federal money to come into our state. This particular biennium that we're in, we are actually receiving more funds from the state than we are from the federal government. That's also because of the boon of monies that have been available in North Dakota. We do seek some private funding. It's not easy. Probably one of the biggest issues we face is time and can we turn our attention to it.

Again, I want to mention Troyd Geist, our folklorist, because he has been very successful at getting grants for his programs through the Bush Foundation and a few other private sources.

And then recently with Arts Across the Prairie, we've been able to go out and we have received funds from an anonymous donor and have been able to cover a lot of costs related to that. We have a board member who is particularly interested in endowments and endowments for the future of NDCA. So she has taken it upon herself with a few other board members to look into how could that help us. We've had a few people who have passed who have made an announcement that said, you know, if you'd like to make a donation in honor of this person, please give to the Arts Council, but it's not something we've ever put a lot of focus on and we're looking at it now.

There's always the need for money. And again, when you work for a state agency, you're having to think quite far ahead both in terms of what you put into your request and then what you're able to get. And this year, again, being one of the highest funding that we've ever gotten from the state of North Dakota, we were able to, as I mentioned, bring on another staff person at a full-time temporary position to help with Arts Across the Prairie. We were able to increase in part-timer to full-time and we were able to start two new grant programs, which is wonderful. One is an Indigenous Professional Development Fellowship and we're doing that in partnership with Sacred Pipe Resource Center. And the other is an Accessibility Grant, which will be for our organizations to apply if they need a signer at a performance or if they need large print programs or they're designing something where it will make their ability to access their constituents better.

It’s funny that you mentioned that, you know, as an Arts Council we may get asked for a lot, but there's a lot of people who don't actually know that there is a North Dakota Council on the Arts. And I would say it's only been in the last few years that we've made a concerted effort to be out there and really COVID actually was a boost for us because we were able to go online rapidly and teach art classes and reach elders and teach individual artists and work with our organizations and help them convene so that they could talk about what that pressure was like to not lose their constituents or their funds and to keep their programming going. When COVID ended, we continued to ride that wave and we've done just a lot of work making sure that we are really reaching new and diverse communities that were out in rural that were working to really spread the news that we're here and that we do have funds and we'd love to have people apply.

Scott: You know, you can hardly attend any event, any arts event in this state, but always on the last page of the program at the bottom, funding provided by the Council of the Arts. I mean, it's ubiquitous.

Kim: We’re there! And that's with the groups though that have programs and that do have constituents and that, you know, work with their own programming to reach other people. So it's a great thing when we can help spread that word.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. I've had the great pleasure of my entire life being in the arts, primarily music. And wherever I go, if it's a Canadian province or I think I've played in like 20 states around the country, the unique bond that artists have, you meet somebody in the afternoon right away when you shake hands.

Kim: And then you're invited for dinner.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah, after the performance. But to think that you meet somebody and artists always give each other hugs more than they shake hands. To go on stage that night and play and with somebody you've just met four hours ago. That kind of bond is just unbelievable.

Kim: It’s remarkable.

Scott: It's hard to explain to people who were not in the arts, but it's perhaps the most fascinating aspect of of the arts to sit there and create with somebody you just met a little while ago or, you know.

Kim: It’s a really special bond. And I think of it as more as a genetic disorder, a good one.

Scott: How do people get in touch with you? What's the easiest way to get in touch with the Arts Council?

Kim: Call us or go to our website because our whole staff is listed. Our board is listed. We really, the board is really our legs on the ground. We have one representative for each of the eight regions in North Dakota and our staff is listed there. We have a main email. We respond very quickly and we're always, always interested in talking about new ideas and helping artists or arts organizations find ways to move them forward and help them reach their constituents and reach a new audience.

Scott: Wow, incredible. In case you just tuned in, I am talking with Kim Konikow, the Executive Director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts. A final question for you: You have been an administrator. You've been a teacher. You've been a panelist for national, local, state organizations. And it seems to me that you still have a lot of energy left and you just watching you walk is indicative of that. What's next?

Kim: Good question. Right now, I think, you know, the next few months are really about finding someone to come in and not be me, but to have the energy to continue the forward motion of the Council and really champion the arts in North Dakota. I suspect that I will continue working, probably more in a consulting capacity, and it might be nearby in Minnesota. I'm also looking in Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine as possibilities. Winter is not what bothers me. So I'm game for four seasons. And I want to continue my work with placemaking and with artists and arts in the community because it is central to the core of my being, moving things forward.

Scott: Well, if you need to get in touch with Kim Konikow, best to do that through email or phone because having watched her walk around, she is way too fast.

Kim: I don't know what you're talking about. I feel kind of sluggish. [laughs]

Scott: If you try to catch up to her on the street, you may not. Kim, it's been a pleasure.

Kim: Thank you. I really appreciate an opportunity to have some talking fun here.

Scott: Kim Konikow. One of the best.