Our Story

Founded in 2015 by Dr. Katie Smirnova and Brett Walfish, two individuals with a vision for enriching, empowering, and transforming communities through the arts, the Rushmore Music Festival takes place each summer in the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

With a residency at the Black Hills State University, the organization brings together highly sought-after pedagogues and high-caliber performers for a 3-week solo & chamber music festival for students ages 10 through 18. The Summer Academy attracts young musicians from around the nation through a selective, audition-based application process.

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On the weekends, the Festival's faculty come together to present the Faculty Concert Series, where exhilarating chamber music concerts fill the stages and community venues in Spearfish and Rapid City.

Our Values

It is through the generosity of our donors and corporate sponsors that we are able to bring an exceptional roster of dedicated artists to work together and create invaluable educational opportunities for our students and our communities.

With a strong focus on individual progress and artistic growth that is rooted in communication, the Summer Academy fosters a truly unique, immersive musical environment. Integrated into the curriculum are classes in Music Theory and Ear-Training, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, Improvisation, and Public Speaking & Acting. Whereas many festivals reserve this kind of rigorous environment for older, already accomplished musicians, the Summer Academy provides this opportunity for young developing musicians at the early advanced & advanced levels. All days are pre-structured to allow a targeted focus on the technical mastery of their instrument. Through the guidance of faculty who provide the necessary tools to discover, foster, and realize their own artistic potential, our students are constantly instilled with discipline, accountability, perseverance, and an unmatched standard of excellence.

We believe that these opportunities should be made accessible to all qualified students, which is why it is our goal to provide the necessary financial assistance to deserving students who would otherwise be limited by their families’ economic situations. We are proud to say that we were able to offer financial aid and merit scholarships to over 60% of our students in 2017 and 100% in 2018.

Outreach and More

While the Festival officially takes place during our summer residency, throughout the remainder of the year the Festival co-founders and faculty participate in many community outreach performances, school workshops, and guest masterclasses in the Black Hills and around the country. 


The Rushmore Music Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All donations are tax deductible.

The Rushmore Music Festival does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation, in any of its activities or operations.