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Looking back at a year of disappointment and pivots in Charleston arts and entertainment

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I'm not going to sugarcoat it. This has been a disastrous year for the arts and entertainment industry, which relies on live events and in-person audiences to function.

With festivals canceled, movie theaters shuttered and concerts waylaid, millions have been impacted. And those folks aren't just the performers and movie stars themselves, but all those who work within the supporting infrastructure. 

Though most of Charleston's venues are still hanging on, the same can't be said for independent music halls around the country. Almost 100 have shuttered for good, according to a Billboard roundup.

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Locally, movie theaters have boarded up for a majority of the year as Regal and other major companies made the universal decision. The film industry is facing a global $5 million box office loss as movie releases have been pushed back and cinemas have closed around the world.

As a whole, the entertainment industry is looking at a staggering $160 billion loss in the next five years, as reported in The Observer. That's not a number anyone would've suspected, but COVID-19 had other plans.

The good news, however, is that just as other industries have found ways to creatively pivot during this difficult time, so has the entertainment industry. If anything, more so, since its work force is full of creative minds. 

The same goes with Charleston, where it's not all doom and gloom. Though organizations and institutions have struggled to keep the lights on, they didn't give up hope but sought to find solutions to the massive problem at hand. 

Caught between a rock and a hard place, and with little government help, the arts have managed to repaint their own scenario. The rock became a balloon, and the hard place is growing further from sight down below.

The Charleston Music Hall moved to outdoor shows at The Bend, and the Terrace Theater started its own drive-in theater. Pure Theater's stage productions went virtual, while The Gibbes Museum hosted its first online art auction. 

And all the while, arts organizations gave a voice to and supported artists of color with a pertinent message to share amidst this summer's sweeping social justice movement spurred by Black Lives Matter protests. 

I'm taking this time to look back on this year's struggles, highlights and pivots, with the hopes of a return to some semblance of normalcy within the new year.

Here are 25 arts stories (in chronological order) written by arts critic Maura Hogan and me that highlight this year's historic moments from a local perspective. 

1. ‘Everything we do, they’re telling us not to do’: Coronavirus impact on Charleston entertainers

It was pretty unbelievable when this whole thing started in March, and those first stories I wrote about the coronavirus' affect on local entertainers were some of the most impactful because of the uncertainty and shock of that time. Social distancing was quick to endanger an industry that relies on bringing people together. 

2. South Carolina musicians and venues turn to live streaming in age of coronavirus 

Livestreaming was the closest some fans got to a live concert experience this year, and it might have lasting repercussions in the music industry for years to come. 

3. How are Charleston creatives adjusting to COVID-19? Through random acts of artistry.

You've heard of random acts of kindness, but local creatives reacted to the pandemic with random acts of artistry. Artists and arts lovers facing the onset of the lockdown continued to sing their songs, write their poems, paint their masterpieces and find their audiences. 

4. Charleston Scene readers share their quarantine creations, from art to poetry

Remember when you, dear readers, got the chance to contribute to our pages? That was a wonderful point in time this year, and the resulting artwork was more marvelous than expected. Thanks for bringing me some joy this year through this project! 

5. Charleston artists participate in global social media movement during coronavirus

During a time when a shared artistic experience couldn't be had in a gallery, a virtual pledge gave artists and art lovers a way to connect. A hashtag circulating on social media, #ArtistSupportPledge, was started to incite a chain reaction of giving between artists. 

6. At SC’s Brookgreen Gardens, Bruce Munro’s ‘Southern Light’ brings us (safely) together

After being shut in for the spring, this light display at Brookgreen Gardens offered an outdoor art showcase for those longing once more to view gallery walls and contemplate the works within. In the outdoor garden, Bruce Munro shed light on a dark time. 

7. Charleston musicians spread cheer during coronavirus with neighborhood concerts

A variety of backyard rock shows, curbside concerts, neighborhood acoustic sets and even dockside saxophone solos arose at the beginning of the pandemic when bars and restaurants were still closed. They shared a little cheer during a very difficult time, and kept some musicians "employed" via Venmo tips. 

8. What it’s like attending Charleston’s new drive-in movie theaters during coronavirus

Drive-in movies became one of the most creative pivots to arise from the pandemic. Those craving safe entertainment flocked to outdoor theaters to grasp hold of what few moments of fun they could find this year. This might just be one pivot to remain.

9. Charleston cultural organizations receive coronavirus grant money, but is it enough?

In June, South Carolina Humanities awarded $482,000 in emergency relief funds to 99 cultural organizations across the state, including eight in Charleston. But that was about all the government help they would get for the remainder of the year. 

10. 15 SC black creatives talk about their art as a form of protest

Throughout the years, protest has manifested itself in art, and this year was no different. Fifteen South Carolina Black artists, who have portrayed their struggles with the state’s history of slavery and its ripple effects, discussed how their art has been part of the Black Lives Matter movement and a catalyst for change. 

11. Charleston soul-searchers: Now is the time to listen to your artists.

Amidst an amplified focus on rethinking standard operating procedures both in our own lives and government, Maura looked at local artists' new works and revisited the archives to gain deeper resonance. "Now would be a good time to listen to your Charleston artists," she penned. "Here are a few primed for a new paradigm." 

12. More than 40 SC rappers and producers release album recorded in 72 hours

Though it wasn't recorded during the pandemic, one album made history in South Carolina this summer. "Amethyst" brought together more than 40 local rappers and producers, showing that the state has a strong and talented hip-hop scene. The second iteration of the project was just recorded this month and can be expected in the new year.

13. What the ‘new normal’ for live music looks like in South Carolina

Outdoor concerts have been a major music highlight amidst a season in which traditional indoor stages were closed to the public. Among local venues to hop onboard the trend have been Pour House, The Windjammer and Charleston Music Hall, whose concerts at The Bend drew hundreds of happy, spaced-out patrons. These all became the "new normal." 

14. Charleston bands, music venues push Congress for Save Our Stages Act financial assistance

Charleston music venues and bands rallied around a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would have provided federal financial aid to independent venues during the coronavirus pandemic. That bill has been incorporated into the second stimulus package for a resounding win that will allocate $15 billion to venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

15. Spoleto to host livestream US premiere from England’s Bristol Old Vic

It was huge news when Charleston lost the tourism boom that comes with the Spoleto Festival. And yet, the organization found ways to still connect virtually with its audience and give hope for a 2021 return. 

16. Tune in to these 20 albums released by SC artists during the coronavirus

Local musicians kept creating music this year, even if they couldn't play that music live. I rounded up some 2020 coronavirus-era albums back in August that you might just be able to catch live in 2021. 

17. In a changing world, SC public art gets another shot

Public art can be mounted by an artist and viewed from a distance. At the same time, it is ideally suited to foster dialogue. In short, public art uncannily dovetailed the twin issues of a pandemic and a social reckoning. 

18. Small town SC native Chadwick Boseman shows others that they can be what they see

When Anderson native Chadwick Boseman died this year from colon cancer, it left a big hole in the entertainment world and Marvel universe. The "Black Panther" was gone, but his legacy, which began right here in South Carolina, certainly lives on. 

19. Charleston comedy duo creates collaborative livestream variety show during pandemic

Livestream comedy has become a trend during the pandemic, and the local troupe behind Rip City wasn't to be left out. The experimental show pivoted from stage improv to pre-recorded video clips, while commentary was livestreamed in an old-school MTV-style variety show format. 

20. New season at Charleston’s Pure Theatre delivers a big dose of hope

Their ticket sales projections for the year were in the scrap heap and conducting rehearsals and gathering audiences were head-scratchers, but that doesn't mean Pure Theater gave up hope. The Charleston theater company that prides itself on superbly acted, polished productions of probing contemporary plays announced its 18th season, including a virtual production, with resounding resilience. 

21. Charleston Opera Theater stages outdoor concert, hitting it out of the waterfront park

The hope of this free outdoor opera concert was to give something to the community while also demonstrating the resonance of an art form that is traditionally characterized as elitist. In fleeces and camping chairs, onlookers watched a performance unfold that they'd usually watch while wearing high heels in the balcony box. 

22. Charleston musicians’ different approaches to writing and recording during coronavirus

During an unprecedented time on our globe, finding a spark has been auspicious for some local musicians with newfound time on their hands and challenging for others who have struggled to find their muse amid the anxiety and uncertainty. This story unraveled some local artists' different songwriting and recording journeys this year. 

23. SC musicians including Ranky Tanky, Susto play virtual concerts for voting initiatives

During this election year, local musicians didn't give up their voices, despite not having the platform of a traditional stage. Instead, many pivoted to support national voting initiatives with virtual performances alongside some of the music industry's biggest names. 

24. Give peace a chance with Charleston artists and artisans

Charleston artists and artisans helped us attain a much-needed moment of Zen this year amidst the chaos. When we needed to counter the week’s cacophony, local musicians served up some soothing sounds. When we required a meditative interlude, Charleston-themed puzzles arose. Thanks for keeping us sane. 

25. Are concerts back? A status update on 16 Charleston music venues

In November, I checked in with local venues to see where they stood after a wild year. This was the resulting story, which showcased the financial concerns but also resilience and creativity of the music scene. 

Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.

Kalyn Oyer is a Charleston native who covers arts & entertainment and food & bev for The Post and Courier. She's a music festival & concert photographer and used to write about music for the Charleston City Paper, among other publications.