SUMMERVILLE — The town’s vaunted Sculpture in the South is teetering and in jeopardy, and program and civic leaders say they don’t think it can continue the way it has.
The partially tax-supported arts group, which has placed more than 20 sculptures in Azalea Park and elsewhere around town, is now dogged by funding struggles and some leadership burn-out.
Poor results from its annual sculpture show last May have some two-thirds of its board members ready to resign. The town did not grant the usual share of about $4,000 in tourism tax money this year, and another $25,000 to $35,000 in hospitality tax money might not be awarded later this summer.
The money is nearly one-third of the group’s budget.
Another new director is taking over in a long line of staff and board changes in the program’s 15 years. Incoming director Jim Reaves told Summerville Town Council this week he couldn’t assure that the group would have a show next spring, but asked to be reconsidered for funding after replacing the board and coming up with a plan that will merit the funds.
At a membership meeting Wednesday, he will try to do just that.
Some board members and civic leaders, including Mayor Bill Collins, think that the only way the program is likely to make it is under the management of another events program.
“It’s possible for Sculpture in the South to continue, but not necessarily the way it’s operated now,” said Collins, who met with group members and others this week, partly to explore other options.
Fewer than 1,000 people turned out for the May show, and among dozens of sculptors exhibiting, only about $19,000 in sales were made. Sculpture in the South made no net revenue from ticket sales.
“The show just takes a ton of work to get ready for, and we’re not making any money,” said Ed Carter, a board member who plans to resign when Director Susan Frampton steps down this month. “Just a lot of us believe Sculpture in the South has run its course, and we have enough sculpture in Azalea Park.”
At its first show in 2000 the group raised $5,000 with only 250 paid attendees. Within a year it raised $100,000 to place a multi-piece sculpture in the park. That was the beginning of a number of campaigns and events, such as champagne breakfasts and black-tie parties, that gave Sculpture in the South a high-profile social cachet.
But it never really caught on with Summerville residents who say in poll after poll they want more cultural events. The cost of individual pieces at the annual event daunts many who attend, and the show also has not attracted enough support from more affluent visitors, some leaders say.
Gross receipts for Sculpture in the South from ticket sales and other sources have varied widely year to year, according to the nonprofit’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Not once from 2007-2012 did receipts equal the $95,000 in administrative and management expenses reported in 2012.
The group needs new management to focus more on sculpture acquisition and arts education, said board Chairwoman Diane Sinclair, who also plans to step down this month. “It needs to be completely re-organized.”
Reaves, the incoming director, said that when an established exhibit can’t draw 1,000 people in a suburban area of 10 times that many, “something is wrong. We’re not reaching somebody.” He wants to work closer with community and school groups, to get more people interested in sculpture and the program.
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