This is the time of year to count blessings, and I’m thankful I live in such a vibrant arts community. The Lowcountry has so much to offer in the way of the arts that it’s hard to pick out special events each week, a wonderful problem to have.
Since we are publishing the holiday arts calendar today and you have lots of choices, I thought I would pick out a few people and organizations that are helping to further the arts development here.
First on my list is the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department. These folks have been working tirelessly to bring new and interesting work to area citizens who might not make the trip to downtown Charleston. They are helping to create a soul for the city, which is what gives an area character and a sense of place.
So far, they have helped create the North Charleston Pops!, feature monthly high-quality exhibits of local and regional artists, and run the North Charleston Arts Festival every year. Each month it seems like there is a new offering in a variety of mediums.
What is special about this group is that they don’t try to go too far into the avant garde. They are going for the most understandable — and popular — works in music, theatre and crafts. They are including lots of children and adults who are getting their first taste of the arts, much like Piccolo Spoleto did for Charleston in the early days.
Next is Mark Sloan, director and curator at the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Sloan has been steadily creating a nexus of contemporary art and putting together shows that both provoke and educate at the same time. Before Sloan made it his mission to bring modern art to Charleston in 1994, it was necessary to travel to Atlanta, New York or Chicago to see work of this caliber.
Many of his exhibitions travel to other museums, and the artists featured usually say that they have never had a curator pay the kind of attention to their work that Sloan gives.
Best of all, his artistic eye is educating both the public and classes of students who benefit from having a true contemporary curator in their midst.
Then there is Keely Enright, founder and producing director of Village Repertory Company. The company was originally in Mount Pleasant, a bright spot in the middle of an otherwise artistic void. It’s hard enough to run a company on a shoestring, but she and the company were faced with the ultimate challenge: finding a new building when the former grocery story they were in was leased to another tenant. (Southern Season is now going gangbusters there.)
This can often be the death knell for a young company, but Enright made a bold move. Rather than move farther out in Mount Pleasant, she risked bringing the company downtown into a space that was a blank canvas, an unused former meat packing plant, now the Woolfe Street Playhouse.
While it has taken some time, the company is staging plays, musicals and parties nearly every month and the audience not only followed them, but the new location is beautifully situated for the revival of the Upper King Street area. Enright proved to be intuitive in her choice of locations.
And a sense of community has prevailed at the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. While I’m neutral on whether the symphony needs a union, the fact that the musicians and management are now working together for the good of the organization bodes well for the future. At a time when orchestra audiences across the country are increasingly getting older, the only way for the organization to survive is to bring fresh eyes to both the musical offerings and the financial bottom line. Enticing the audience is the key, and it takes an organization that can not only pay it’s bills but take some artistic risks.
The symphony was in dire straits two years ago and now has rebounded dramatically. It would be hard to call ourselves an arts town without this important organization, so keep up the good work.
And I have to tip the hat to Spoleto Festival USA. It has been a driving force behind the development of the arts community since 1978. It has thrived through management upheaval and, the recent recession while still providing quality work that makes it worth going to the theater.
Its partnership with the city of Charleston has meant that performing arts venues all over the city have been rebuilt so that many more organizations can benefit from the improvements.
While you have to have been around awhile to remember the famous cellist Yo Yo Ma performing here as a young man, you can walk into the Dock Street Theatre, Memminger Auditorium or in a year or so, the new Gaillard Auditorium and enjoy the performances in comfort.
Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.