VERMILLION, S.D. – John Banasiak, a professor of photography who has been in the University of South Dakota College of Fine Arts Department of Art for over 40 years, has been awarded the Governor’s Award in the Arts for Outstanding Service in Arts Education.
This lifetime achievement award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to arts education as a teacher, mentor or catalyst.
“I have tried to create an environment and atmosphere where learning can take place. The USD photography program is a place where ideas can come together and where individual experiments and visual investigations can be looked at and discussed, appreciated and nurtured into a state of further reflection and understanding,” said Banasiak. “I try to get students to feel relaxed, and to feel that they are a part of a discovery team on a visual adventure. Often, long-departed graduated students of mine return and participate at critiques and in discussions, as I have a policy that claims all students who take photography here are lifetime members of the department. In the end, we all guide each other to places we have never been.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Arts South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council will celebrate the 25th Governor’s Awards in the Arts on Tuesday, Feb. 10 online, replacing the biennial banquet held in Pierre.
“We are so pleased to see John honored in this way,” said Bruce Kelley, Ph.D., dean of the USD College of Fine Arts. “He has a long and distinguished record of service to the fine arts in South Dakota and to USD, in particular. John is a beloved teacher who empowers students to grow in ways they never thought possible. We are proud that his accomplishments have been recognized by such a significant award.”
Upon graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a B.F.A. in photography in 1972, Banasiak was awarded the Fred J. Forester Fellowship and a Kosczuszko Foundation Grant to attend summer classes at the University of Krakow in Poland. He returned to the Art Institute of Chicago as a graduate teaching assistant in the fall and received an M.F.A. in photography in 1975. Banasiak realized he loved teaching as an artist in residence at Light Work and Syracuse University in New York, and in 1978, he was hired to teach for one year as a full- time faculty member at the State University of New York in Oswego. He then traveled to New Zealand in 1979 and conducted photographic workshops at Auckland University and Christchurch University. Banasiak returned to the United States in 1980 to take a full-time position in the USD College of Fine Arts.
Banasiak was born in Blue Island, Illinois, in 1950, and grew up in Harvey, just south of Chicago. His grandparents came to the United States from Poland and the Ukraine during World War I and settled into one of the many factory communities that grew along the southern shores of Lake Michigan. After high school, Banasiak worked for a summer in the same factory that his father worked a few blocks away from where they lived. His high school art teacher, who had saved some of Banasiak’s drawings and paintings, was instrumental in getting him a full-ride scholarship to attend classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 1968. Banasiak took his first photography class from Ken Josephson in 1969. As he took subsequent classes from Harold Allen, Barb Crane, Enrico Natali, David Vestal, Hugh Edwards, Stan Brakhage and Chuck Swedlund, Banasiak realized how important photography was to him and how poetic it could be.
The Governor’s Awards in the Arts are sponsored by Arts South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council. South Dakota Arts Council support is provided with funds from the State of South Dakota, through the Department of Tourism, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional sponsors include Delta Dental, BankWest and The Bush Foundation.