Now in its sixth year, ArtFields has established itself as one of the Southeast’s major events for visual artists and their patrons. For nine days, starting Friday, April 20, the small town of Lake City in Florence County hosts 400 artists and their work, including about 40 from the Charleston area.
Painters, sculptors, textile and mixed-media artists, photographers, digital artists and more compete for $120,000 in cash prizes.
“We’re confident that the quality of the art has gone up quite a bit,” said Wim Roefs, artistic director of Lake City Creative Alliance, which oversees ArtFields. “There were more than 900 submissions this year, a big jump from last year.” More submissions means more good submissions, Roefs added.
He and his team are setting the stage to make Lake City a year-round destination for art lovers. They are securing more venues, forging partnerships and devising new programs, Roefs said.
“It’s a great art event in and of itself,” he said of ArtFields. “It is also a device with which Lake City hopes to revive its fortunes.”
Lake City, once known for its tobacco crop and bean market, fell on hard times, like so many other small towns in the region. In 2012, philanthropist and Lake City native Darla Moore decided to inject a little life into the area, kickstarting the visual arts extravaganza that has since gained wide appeal.
Now Roefs, who also operates If Art Gallery in Columbia and sits on the board of the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, wants to go big.
“It’s hard to imagine a lot of people making a two-hour trip for one exhibition,” he said. “The thinking was, you want to offer more year-round. If three or four exhibitions are up, then people might just make a day out of it.”
To make that happen, he’s arranged for artists to create two murals for ArtFields that will outlive the festival itself, and he’s putting to use new exhibit space: the Jones-Carter Gallery, AFO Gallery and the newly renovated TRAX Visual Arts Center, a 5,000-square-foot former warehouse divided into three sections.
In one, currently an outdoor space ArtFields will use as a sculpture garden, patrons will find a new work by installation artist Brittany Watkins, who won the $25,000 second-place prize last year.
Greenville filmmaker Jeff Sumerel (once a stand-up comedian) will be in residence throughout the event, engaging visitors, shooting video and working a hand puppet. Each day he will edit his footage into a short video presentation, Roefs said.
“Performance, as it happens during the day, gets recorded, then it’s turned into a visual arts piece,” he said.
Lake City’s restaurant and retail sector is blossoming, too, Roefs said. Visitors interested in a bite to eat can also view some art, and those interested in viewing some art also can get a good bite to eat, Roefs said.