In 2017, Betty Sheldon came up with a way to unite the artists of Aberdeen.
“I was trying to think of ways to do something in the community,” said Betty. “I sent out an email to about 25 people who are artists. I told them to come over for soup and bread and to bring something to show.”
The Art Group’s very first meeting was held in Betty’s home and was attended by 17 artists. By the end of the night, they were already planning the next one.
“It’s always so much fun,” said Gail Funk. “Everyone is welcome to come. We always share a meal together before we share art.”
The Art Group meetings all usually play out the same way. Members will gather at one member’s home on the first Wednesday of each month, and many people bring dishes for everyone to share in a big potluck-style meal. After everyone finishes eating, a big show-and-tell session takes up the rest of the meeting. Artists receive praise and friendly constructive criticism on their works. The encouragement and uplifting words that are shared are the heart of the group.
“There are lots of resources for all the artists here,” said Guy Clothier. “We all give each other feedback. It’s very important to encourage each other and fuel the passion.”
“If you feel unmotivated, you’ll get a lot of encouragement so you don’t quit,” said Connie Gisi.
Participation in the group has steadily grown, and some meetings have had over 20 people in attendance. Now the group supports over 70 members in total from across the world. One year, a few Chinese exchange students from Northern State University joined the group, and they always brought plenty of food with them to share.
“We have people who regularly attend from Watertown, Webster, Mitchell, and Sioux Falls,” Betty said.
“Some members have moved away since joining,” Gail said. “We keep in touch with them still, in case they’re able to join one of our meetings over Zoom.”
Betty noted that when they were trying to come up with a name for the group, they wanted something that would include all of the members. ‘The Art Group’ was a simple and succinct way to describe themselves, and sometimes they shorten it to ‘TAG’.
When the group first started, Gail kept an email list that served as a way to remind members of meeting times and other important events. Then a Facebook page for the group was created. Many members share their work on Facebook in between meetings, and the page also serves as a calendar of events for individual and group art shows.
“There are still a lot of artists in town that we haven’t heard of,” Gail said. “We follow galleries and try to find other people to support.”
Each member of The Art Group brings something unique to the table. There are painters, sculptors, potters, fiber artists, jewelers, found-object artists, metal workers, and mural painters that all share their work. The artists aren’t just limited to the visual arts either. Writers, poets, and musicians perform their work at meetings as well. Some members even collaborate with each other outside of meetings.
Just like the many mediums of art they celebrate, the members of The Art Group are diverse as well. Men and women of all ages have joined, from college-age students to retired folks and everyone in between.
“I joined the group a couple years ago,” said Guy. “They’re all really nice, welcoming people. You can see the diverse group coming together as a community.”
Connie, who has been a member since the first meeting, has enjoyed watching their community grow.
“Before the group, a lot of us didn’t have a place to come together and share our work,” she said. “Little by little, the group grew.”
“At one point, we had to start timing each other just to make sure everyone had time to share,” Betty said.
“It’s such a wonderful, fun, educational group,” said Barb Ripperger. “Sometimes we get deep too. The reason why I joined is because they accept everyone here.”
Most members of The Art Group are very active members in the community. Several members have held their own art shows, and the Heartland Casino has offered their gallery space for the group to use. Two members, James Johnson and Linda Roesch, have done murals in town. Some members are vendors at art shows like Arts in the Park, and The Art Group has had members’ artwork displayed all across the state.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Dakota, The Art Group was faced with some new challenges.
“We never missed a meeting until COVID,” Betty said.
With social distancing restrictions, meetings could no longer be held in members’ homes. The members of The Art Group adapted to this change, and meetings were held over Zoom. Once COVID restrictions began to ease, they were able to meet up at local parks and other outdoor areas. In the colder months, they held their meetings at the ARCC and the Red Rooster. They haven’t made their way back to home meetings quite yet, but the new arrangements have been working well for everyone.
“When we think about trying to meet up at a house again, something always comes up,” Betty said. “COVID has affected us in ways we are still realizing.”
The Art Group holds their own art show for all members once a year. These shows have been held in the ARCC and the Red Rooster. Their most recent show held their closing ceremony on Feburary’s meeting date, and there was plenty of food, conversation, and laughter – a perfect way to showcase what the group is really about. //