Deb runs The Retreat at Pointer’s Ridge in Baltic, South Dakota.

Name: Deb Klebanoff

City/Town: Baltic, South Dakota         

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Who is your community?

The Retreat community is an emerging one between Sioux Falls and Baltic, South Dakota … perhaps it doesn’t even know it exists yet.

Our mission is to serve people of all ages in discovering and nurturing their inner creativity, exploring nature and focusing on sustainable living.  We are in a rural area that provides the opportunity to be the hub of a rural creative corridor or district with activities and participants within a defined perimeter.  Early discussions about this possibility took place in spring 2015.  People in this immediate region have a curiosity about what we are doing because they are familiar with the property we are situated on.  We have begun establishing relationships within the City of Baltic as members of the Baltic Area Community Club, working with them to hold a first Community Culture Fair in July 2015.  The LifeScape program in Sioux Falls makes several trips out to The Retreat each summer, to paint picnic tables, create mosaic doo-dads for the sculpture garden, participate in a paint pour.  We reached out in small ways to the agricultural/sustainable living folks in the region; it is hoped that creatives in all media will recognize the value of this space near Sioux Falls.

Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.

A regular day depends on the season of the year.  From spring to as long as possible in the fall, rehab work continues on this property in order to make it more fully usable.  This is also the time of year activities are taking place at The Retreat; artists may be in residence, organizations may be using the Main Hall, volunteers come to help with lawn work and cleaning.

Once the weather turns cold, however, the work is inside as the buildings at The Retreat are unheated.  (The “official” Retreat office is up on the hill in my library.)  This is when grants are researched and written; donors contacted; planning for the followingyear takes place.  No matter the season, my average day includes a lot of Retreat related activities from about 9 am to 7 pm easily.  Things that I completely handle for The Retreat at this point include:  all bookkeeping; social media; website development and updates; legal issues such as keeping state reports up-to-date and filing taxes; bill payment; promoting The Retreat; meetings with potential volunteers, artists, arts organizations, donors, users; press releases and lining up press coverage; all photography and keeping a photo journal of Retreat changes and activities; writing thank you’s; community presentations; developing fundraising campaign on Razoo or Indiegogo; attending most Retreat events; cleaning and laundry for all overnight guests; cleaning main hall; gardening; event planning; purchasing supplies; overseeing construction projects and rehab; scheduling; giving Retreat tours to visitors; handling all Retreat correspondence and questions.

What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?

I have established a place but have yet to establish a strong following for it.  Before embarking on this craziness, I visited with over 50 people in the region — community leaders, artists, people interested in the arts, bicyclists, local retailers, people interested in community gardening, etc., about their thoughts on the need for such a place as The Retreat.  The response was 100% positive … “there is no place like this in the region.”  Still, I find that those who can envision a use for this space (other than weddings) are not coming around yet.  Just yesterday one of our volunteers came on a gorgeous fall day to chop at some bushy overgrowth in the trees; he said, “Why aren’t there 50 people down here singing?”  That pretty much sums up my thoughts at this point.  I have talked to other people in similar situations who assure me it just takes time.  But I am frustrated …

If you could do any job, what would you do and why?

If I could do any job, I would be the caretaker of The Retreat property.  The Retreat would be well-known in the region as an interesting place, busy with creative people painting their paintings or writing their poetry or sculpting their sculptures or fashioning beautiful landscapes in the gardens.  I would be a volunteer, helping to build the new artist pods on the hillside or the new exhibit/classroom space as envisioned by those at our 2014 planning charette. I would be happy to remain involved in terms of planning, raising funds, working with artists, building relationships in the regional community, attending a LOT more art events to keep up on what’s happening and what is of interest to people.  The tedious duties of my current job would be greatly diminished.  And outside, there would be 50 people singing … while I am sitting on a bench in the trees I just trimmed, listening.

What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?

Probably the most beneficial thing is that there is so much opportunity to try things because they haven’t been tried here before!  There are over 500 artist communities in the United States; not one in South Dakota.  There are retreat spaces here, and a couple places committed specifically to one art form.  But places where creatives can spend time away from their day-to-day routines, working on what they love best, in the company of others doing the same does not exist here.

Imagine this 21-acre site, with a visual artist painting alongside the river; a poet writing on a bench in the woods on the hillside; a landscape gardener creating some whimsy in the sculpture garden; a sculptor creating something for that garden; woodcarvers making an impermanent mark in downed trees; musicians writing music and rehearsing in the main hall; culinary artists whipping up something for all in the kitchen.  April through October.  And even longer once we find an HVAC artist.  (Think that’s impossible?  Hey, we found a skid steer artist this summer and what an amazing difference he has made!)  Of course, it is most likely that such a space hasn’t been created before in South Dakota because of a small population of the very people it will taketo use it.  But I’m of the “build it and they will come” mentality.  No, we aren’t near the Black Hills.  But the prairie and the river hills and valleys of SE SD have their own beauty and scenery that fascinate.

This spring, we held a meeting to discuss the possibility of creating a cultural district here with The Retreat as a hub.  Artists, yes.  But how about a corn silo covered with mosaic tiles painted by local children?  (I have already located the silo.)  Musical events and fabric art exhibits at local wineries (some of this is already happening.) Routes established for gravel road bicyclists that include stops at regional cafes, wineries, pottery barns.  Barn dances. The idea of “getting lost” in the country was discussed … something for everyone.  Even perhaps those from regions farther away than South Dakota, those who haven’t experienced this state and it’s lifestyle.  How about a month here for a creative from Massachusetts who would also be interested in trekking around our little rural neighborhood to learn more about us while spending quiet time here creating? How about students from a foreign country spending a summer here?

I think these things are possible here.

At what intersection do you live your life?

I live at the intersection of been there, done that and I’ve still got it!

Where do you think good ideas come from?

The shower!  Good ideas come from collaboration.  Good ideas come from a single person thinking in a new way.  Ha!  I guess it is partly both.  Collaboration can really muddle things; yet I’ve found that talking things through with others often brings new possibilities to light.  A single person, thinking in a new way, bringing a new idea to others and working it through together brings about ideas that are strong enough to see the light of day and actually become reality.

What’s one current trend you think will change the world?

I’m probably a little behind the times in saying this because I think it is already happening and I’m just catching up … but exchanging information and conducting business through mobile means will mean huge changes.  More and more people are working from home, able to do what they need to do from remote locations.  Businesses like Uber and AirBnB are revolutionizing their industries.  Shopping online is commonplace; you don’t have to leave your doorstep to have everything required to live.  I’m not sure what all this means for creative industries.  Perhaps it points to an even larger need for retreat spaces where people can find quiet and solace in a world so connected.

What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?

The best way to put inspiration into action is to find other like-minded individuals and just do it.  That means a lot of face time.  This somewhat contradicts what I just said about working mobilely; but a cup of coffee and a conversation still seems to be the most conducive method of relating your inspiration.  Taking advantage of those people and their social media networks is very effective in spreading word about a project.  But true action and commitment requires more than “Likes.” You have to find the people who believe in the project, perhaps not as much as you do, but enough for them to work hard to help make it happen.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?

The biggest risk I’ve taken is definitely starting The Retreat.  There have been so many times along the way that I could have stopped … the no-going-back threshold had not been reached.  As each major milestone came along, I spent many sleepless nights and wondered if I should just let it go at that point rather than jump in further.  But then I’d jump and keep on until the next major hurdle came along.  Taking a 21-acre property that had been abandoned for 7 years; acquiring title to it even though it was plagued with debt; starting the rehab with a borrowed tractor and hours of muscle work … often with my husband as the only volunteer; finding funding for a dilapidated property for an idea most didn’t understand; rounding up volunteers, donations, dollars; fixing hopeless plumbing; learning about itchweed and property taxes and septic systems and county ordinances; SNAKES!; convincing artists to begin using the site.  Often I go to The Retreat and feel like nothing has changed.  Then I look through the photo book to see what it was like when we started back in 2011 and can’t believe how far we’ve come.

This is the first year there’s enough of a money flow to pay the bills, but far from enough to make real physical changes or pay a staff person.  My doubts continue.  So does my belief in what this will one day be.

What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest failure in The Retreat project is probably the first couple of times I went in search of funding.  Unlike fundraising I’ve done for other organizations, this venture needed funding for building and construction.  So I devised a nice Capital Drive program and set up some meetings to present my idea and needs.  I wasn’t exactly laughed out of anyone’s office.  But it was clear very early on that businesses weren’t just going to give money because I thought they should.  I learned that they looked at this as a very risky venture, with little if anything in it for them.  And having their name on a plaque somewhere in the main hall really didn’t interest them.  I learned that I needed to build more relationships with potential donors.  I learned that I needed to refine what it was I was building.  I learned to lower my expectations of donations by a lot.  I learned that I wasn’t going to be building new buildings for artists any time soon; that I’d be lucky to be rehabbing what was there into something usable.

We had a planning charette and out of that came a schedule that I have taken to heart:  Phase A … CAMP (2013-2015) … ask for small donations, use The Retreat as is to a great extent – seasonal and day use only; Phase B … RETREAT (2018-2023) … begin to ask for larger donations and make the buildings usable year-round; Phase C … COMMUNITY (2015-2023) … establish good relationships with the broader community and fill with creatives and community organizations to demonstrate need for such a place.  We have jumped ahead to Phase B a little bit, but have basically followed this plan.  It has meant many fewer sleepless nights!

Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?

As I mentioned in an earlier question, I hope to be the caretaker of The Retreat one day, mowing the lawn and enjoying all the creative activity around me.  I have no illusions that this place is mine … it is not.  I have no illusions about the direction The Retreat should take.  My greatest hope is that this place does become busy and active, as so many creative communities in other states have.  I hope that creatives in the region, the state, the country, even some international would seek out this little spot on the prairie of South Dakota to find the peace and serenity to create their best work.  I’d love to see someone take this beginning of a place to extraordinary heights, with grand artistic ideas and vision.  Nothing would make me happier!

Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?

Both professionally and socially,  the person that wins this category is a neighbor and friend, Don South, owner of Strawbale Winery.  It’s not difficult to understand why.  Don has all the characteristics of being well-connected:  he cares deeply about others; he listens intently when they are speaking; he makes connections between people, matching up those with needs to those who might be a good resource for them; his business dealings are always top-notch; events that he plans are creative and fun, and he makes every effort to thank donors and others who help as well as personally greeting all visitors to the winery; he is generous to a fault; he remembers names and is an amazing networker; he attends industry events and is a very active participant not only in Sioux Falls but also in the rural community surrounding the winery.  Don knows people wherever he goes in the state.  He worked in private business before embarking on his own venture, and served publicly as a commissioner on the Minnehaha County Planning Commission.  He works closely with state agencies including the SD Department of Tourism and the Department of Agriculture.  Don has been a good resource for me as far as running a business; has offered help in fundraising events; and acted as a sounding board on many occasions.  It is people like Don that keep the rest of us going!

Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?

Hawthorne art instructor, Lisa Brunick, takes this category.  Not only is Lisa an amazing artist in her own right, but the lessons and activities she brings to her students are compelling and exciting for them.  Her classroom is bright and interesting … there is something going on everywhere and it makes a difference in the lives of these kids, many of whom are disadvantaged.  She has taken the children out into the community to share public art with them, which was the inspiration for the CommUnity Youth Mosaic wall downtown.  Each public student in Sioux Falls is responsible for a part of that beautiful mosaic, painstakingly strung together into one cohesive unit due to hours of Lisa’s labor.  Her creativity is not just in making art, but also in how to make her community better and the lives of her students better through art.

Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?

The most community-focused person I know is Candy Hanson, former ED of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.  Candy knows most of what is happening in the Sioux Falls community, and she is able to take that knowledge and share it with appropriate people who could build on events or be affected.  She has been responsible for matching many organizations with grant programs to make them operate more efficiently. One of Candy’s many innovations was the Transforming Leadership series that brings regional and national speakers to Sioux Falls to work with non-profits on their capacity building.  Candy impacts her community by matching resources and knowledge with non-profit organizations that do the good of the community, and her role is invaluable.  Plus she always has time to talk about issues a person or group may have in solving some issue.  The community needs a lot more Candy!

What passion project are you working on right now?

While not an artist myself, I have always loved the arts and became involved with them after going through the Sioux Falls Chamber’s Leadership Sioux Falls program.  I first served on the Sioux Falls Chamber’s Arts Committee, chairing it for 2 years.  After that, I joined the board of the Sioux Empire Arts Council.  After 2 years as a board member, I became Director of the Arts Council and served in that capacity for 8 years. Programs have come and gone; people involved in the arts have come and gone; there were some disappointments.  But after a couple years of leaving Sioux Falls, I ran across this little piece of abandoned property along the Big Sioux River and found that there was still a passion in me to serve as advocate for the arts community.  Not even sure of what I was creating, the work began.

There was a handful of early believers; now there are more of them.  I always felt strongly that this place had a purpose for those with their own creative drives and passions.  I have never taken anyone around this property who hasn’t been charmed and voiced their own desire to spend time at such a place.  The concept of a rural arts corridor is one we briefly explored while I was at the Arts Council, but there were just too many distracting issues within the city.  Now I believe the time may have come when we can make this happen.  I believe that The Retreat is a natural hub for this endeavor and intend to work on it more this winter, when there’s a little more time to plan, collaborate, establish partnerships in local communities and with neighbors.  This type of place does not exist in SE SD, and I think that it is something not only locals would buy into, but also constituents from Sioux Falls.  We have made a great first stab at creating this headquarters, so to speak.  And we’ve had initial successes with smaller artist residencies (which, though individual, are no less important than a wider cultural district.)  And so I think this person is me, the place is The Retreat … I could use exactly what the OTA Builders program promises:  “… a tiny spark to help start (or finish) transformative projects … committed to being at the starting (and finish) line coaching, cheerleading and championing 20 individuals who are ready to be bold.”

I am ready to be bold.

I hope to get some coaching on how best to move this project forward to the next step of being more regularly used and being seen in the regional community as an organization/place with a clear focus. In waiting a bit to see how people would like to use it, I’ve become somewhat distracted and would appreciate new eyes looking at this thing to narrow down a concise mission and set of reasonable goals. It seems that the physical aspects of developing this creative community take every ounce of brainpower I have on some days!