Best Annual Event or Festival
SC State Fair
Runner-up: Greek Festival
Free Times is often critical of the South Carolina State Fair — particularly when it comes to the inconsistent musical bookings on its Pepsi-Grandstand main stage. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the fact that our city is home to what is, all around, a really good state fair, with an eclectic array of fried food, fun exhibits and a surprisingly robust collection of carnival rides. We voice our concerns because we know the fair is a great event that’s always striving to get better. Now excuse us while we go deep-fry some cookie dough.
Best Art Gallery
Runner-up: 701 Center for Contemporary Art
In addition to traditional paint on canvas, City Art carries pottery, glass and sculpted creations. If you get inspired after taking a look around, there’s an artist supply store where eager hobbyists can pick up new types of paints, brushes, palettes and more. The Vista gallery space’s in-house framing department is also used for art classes on occasion.
Best Local or Regional Museum
South Carolina State Museum
Runner-up: Columbia Museum of Art
The State Museum encompasses a lot. It hosts blockbuster exhibits that range from displays of animatronic bugs and dinosaurs to harder-hitting subjects, such as those explored by the currently running Race: Are We So Different. It shows off an impressive stock of artistic works while also entertaining and educating audiences at the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Planetarium. What more could you ask a state museum to do?
Best Dance Company
Columbia City Ballet
Runner-up: The Southern Strutt
“Columbia City Ballet offers Southeastern audiences the highest quality ballet and provides dancers with some of the finest professional dance training,” reads the bold claim at the top of the company’s online self-description. And it’s really hard to argue. Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett has established a ballet that isn’t just great for a city of this size, but that stacks up well with companies throughout the Southeast.
Best Dance Studio or School
Columbia Ballet School
Runner-up: The Southern Strutt
The Columbia Ballet School estimates that tens of thousands of students have studied at the three-decades-strong institution. Some of these pupils have gone on to professional careers in the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Cincinnati Ballet, Austin Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Nashville Ballet, N.C. Dance Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, in addition to roles in theatre, video and film. It’s hard to argue with a track record like that.
Best Visual Artist
Ernest Lee — The Chicken Man
Runner-up: Blue Sky
Ernest Lee has an outdoor, portable studio that he sets up at different locations around town, most frequently on Gervais Street at Oak Street. And while he is most known for making colorful arrangements of his favorite fowl, Lee also paints dogs, cats, flamingos and celebrities. You can even catch some of the Chicken Man’s work in various shops around town.
Best Local Theatre Company
Runner-up: Town Theatre
Is there anything Trustus Theatre won’t try? From the punk-stoked spectacle of Green Day’s American Idiot to the Pulitzer-certified absurdism of The Flick, Trustus’ most recent season showed that it’s willing to pursue just about any theme or style as long as the result is quality theatrical storytelling. Columbia’s lone professional theater company is one we can all be proud of, a nexus of relentless creativity and steadfast dedication to craft.
Best Local Theatre Production
Mary Poppins — Town Theatre
Runner-up: Little Shop of Horrors — On Stage Productions
Having recently finished its 97th season, Columbia’s Town Theatre is known for high-quality community theater, offering audiences productions that often rise above the bar associated with such companies. Last year’s production of Mary Poppins hit this mark once again, delivering a classic character in an enjoyable package.
Best Movie Theatre
Regal Cinemas Columbiana Grande 14
Runner-up: The Nickelodeon Theatre
The Columbiana Grande, embedded into one of Columbia’s busiest shopping and dining districts just off Harbison Boulevard, is an exemplary movie house. The theater, which features stadium seating, is always well-staffed and clean, and offers first-run Hollywood blockbusters, as well as a steady slate of smaller, limited-release films and special event showings. The theater has digital projection and booming surround sound. It also serves beer and wine. So yeah, it’s lit.