Ragsdale aims to expand offerings at arts council
BROOKINGS – Since July 6, Ashley Ragsdale has been the new executive director of the Brookings Arts Council, and she’s working hard to expand the offerings at the community arts center.
The Texas native moved to Brookings with her husband, SDSU percussion professor and assistant marching band director Aaron Ragsdale, in 2007.
Ragsdale has a unique background that begs the question why she applied to be the new executive director for the Arts Council. She has her undergraduate degrees in both chemistry and music from the University of Oklahoma and later earned her law degree, working as an attorney in the New Jersey and New York areas.
“It seemed like a great opportunity to use my skill-set as an attorney, but also my music background and connections throughout the community,” Ragsdale said. She was initially thinking about going to medical school but ended up taking the LSAT on a whim and achieved a high enough score to be accepted by most law schools.
Some forms of law, like patent law, require additional degrees beyond a law degree, so Ragsdale saw her chemistry degree as a valuable asset in the field.
She has practiced and taught percussion, piano, violin, front ensemble for marching bands and several other music-oriented activities; she assists the SDSU Pride every fall. Ragsdale has also helped and worked with various local nonprofits from a legal perspective.
Ragsdale had been a stay-at-home mother for the past several years, but with her youngest child in school now, she saw that as an opportunity to search for a new career. She wasn’t interested in anything in Sioux Falls due to the formidable winter commutes.
She saw the position open for the executive director for the Brookings Art Council and decided to apply.
“When I was interviewed for the position, I said that I wanted all fine art. I want it to be music and theatre and dance and literature and poetry and to expand from that,” Ragsdale said. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind since then.”
Ragsdale has organized 24 classes for this fall and six pop-up courses; only four of the classes are art specific. Some of the classes are about how to play the ukulele and guitar, others involve theatre and improv, woodworking, sculpture making and even a Bob Ross painting class where participants get to dress as the artist himself.
Already scheduled through January, Ragsdale has created a monthly event called “Dine and Discuss.” This is where once a month (twice this month), a speaker will be at the BAC from noon-1 p.m. talking about either their unique professional position, artistic proficiencies, or new thoughts and opinions. It’s a bring-your-own lunch event, but beverages will be provided.
From September through November, there are also yoga sessions by instructors from Prairie Soul Studio where there will be live music and beverages.
The Brookings Arts Council has worked directly with the 3M Vibrancy Grant to bring photographer Stephen Crowley to Brookings in April, and this month French-Canadian musical group Le Vent Du Nord returns to the city, but there hadn’t been a third visiting artist selected by the time Ragsdale came to her new position.
She was required to find someone for the third act, and the stipulation for the rest of the grant was to have a speaker/performer who was Native American.
This was Ragsdale’s first assignment as the new BAC executive director. She had been looking around and asking several of her contacts at SDSU for a great speaker/performer for the next event. Around the same time, Joy Harjo had just become the nation’s first Native American poet laureate.
Not expecting to hear from Harjo’s agent, Ragsdale still sent a message and proposal for an event in Brookings.
“Her agent called, which I thought about not picking up because it was one of those numbers I didn’t recognize,” joked Ragsdale. Harjo accepted the proposal and will come to Brookings in December, the BAC announced in late July.
Ragsdale said she’s excited for the events to come and growth of the Brookings Arts Council in the community.
For more information on events and classes hosted by the BAC, visit brookingsartscouncil.org.
COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register