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Columbia’s Artista Vista looks to bounce back from COVID-19, showcase district’s strengths

More Than a Crawl

For galleries and art spaces in the Vista, the 12 months leading up to this week’s Artista Vista were quite different from previous outings of the perennial arts event.

“We're all beat up from the COVID pandemic,” said Clark Ellefson, who creates post-modern lamps and his iconic robots such as the enormous “Green Eyes” public art installation on Huger Street near his gallery and shop, Lewis+Clark. He’s also on the board of directors for the Vista Guild, the neighborhood association that puts on the district’s signature art-crawl-and-then-some.

“With galleries closed and restrictions in place, I haven't done a third Thursday event in a year or more, so we all want to show our stuff, we want our audience. Artists need audiences, and I think people need to see art and we've all been kind of under the pressure. There's just been a lot of pressure on our humaneness. We can use a little relief with some art.”

This year’s Artista Vista will look to offer more than a little relief. Replicating ambitious plans for last year’s coronavirus-canceled outing, the event will stretch and enhance its typical offerings.

There will still be the centerpiece art crawl on Friday, with a variety of regular galleries and pop-ups showcasing and selling work around the Vista’s traditional artistic center surrounding the intersection of Gervais and Lincoln, while bars and restaurants offer specials and some host live music. But there’s also an Art Day on Saturday, which will center on the more recent lower Vista hub of neighboring spaces Stormwater Studios, Lewis+Clark and One Eared Cow Glass, with collections on view, demonstrations from artists and more live music.

Things get even more expansive on Sunday, as the jury-selected arts and crafts show Crafty Feast returns after three years away (and for the first time as part of Artista Vista), and the Koger Center’s swank Live on Lincoln outdoor event will find the city’s signature fine arts performance space hosting entertainment from the likes of South Carolina Philharmonic, Columbia Classical Ballet, Columbia City Ballet, ColaJazz, Trustus Theatre and Palmetto Opera on the cobblestoned stretch of Lincoln Street, with dinner provided by seafood institution Blue Marlin.

“It’s been 28 years of this event, and celebrating the artists who founded the Vista, and we wanted to make sure that there was some excitement behind that,” explained Abby Anderson, executive director of the Vista Guild. “These are kind of baby steps to make it what we hope to be a very large celebration of the arts here in Columbia.”

It’s an intentional push for this year’s Artista Vista to not just represent the visual end of that spectrum, but to provide more than token inclusion for the other disciplines that happen in the neighborhood and help draw people to the nightlife district’s many restaurants and bars.

“I think that everyone doesn't realize it, but they come to the Vista and they celebrate each part of those arts,” Anderson offered. “They come and they go to concerts here. They go to, you know, see Broadway shows at the Koger Center. They're visiting some of the art galleries. So they're already appreciating those things. And I think that they just don't really realize that you can get a little bit of every bit of the arts here in the Vista. And so I think just bringing elements of every part of that ... into one full weekend to kind of show people everything that we have and what we're already giving them, but showcase it in this way, that was very important to us.”

It’s a strategy that if ART Gallery owner Wim Roefs knows well, if on a smaller scale. He’s opened his Lincoln Street space frequently to adventurous jazz and indie rock artists for intimate concerts that might not otherwise find a home in Columbia. He said providing incentives for those whose primary interests lie outside the visual arts to check out what you have going on just makes sense.

“It gives people a different inroad, you know, a different entrance into the event, which can only expand the audience,” Roefs reasoned.

During Friday’s gallery crawl, he’s debuting an exhibition called “Back from Bern,” which features works from Columbia artists recently displayed in the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland. But he’s also doing a “Crafty Clay” display on Sunday to take advantage of the potentially different crowds that Crafty Feast and Live on Lincoln might bring to the neighborhood.

“There are going to be more people around on Sunday because of these events,” he said.

Another benefit that Artista Vista might see from expanding its offerings is differentiating itself from an increasingly crowded arts landscape in Columbia. The event and the Vista now exist at a time when the annual Cottontown Art Crawl and the new NoMa Warehouse co-op are drawing attention to that increasingly bustling neighborhood, when Tapp’s Outpost is entrenching the local arts in Five Points, when galleries continue to open across the river.

“There is more activity, which is a good thing,” Roefs offered. “So it's always good to remind people that the old hands, if you like, are still at it.”

For his part, Lewis+Clark’s Ellefson feels this increased activity across Columbia is good for all parties involved, and he’s glad that Artista Vista is doing its part to keep pushing forward.

“Back in the ’80s, the Vista was a frontier, and it was a pretty rough area,” he said. “The arts being there helped build up that area, and add energy to it. And I think the same thing will happen here (in the lower Vista), once we get through some of our struggles, and we're also trying to create a permanent arts district here, that won't get pushed out by gentrification. And that's always been an important thing for me. I got pushed out by my own gentrification from Lincoln Street to Huger Street.

“But still, it's a great place here, and I have more room, I can park my truck here. And we're doing kind of a sculpture trail here, because there's a beautiful, a lot of outside area here.”

Roefs is pleased to see this year’s Artista Vista acknowledge the neighborhood’s two separate artistic cores in a way that doesn’t place them in competition.

“People really would have to make an effort to go there as well, they would probably not get the traffic that we get,” he said of the dynamic when the Huger Street group of arts spaces was included in the main art crawl, though he speculated that with the way things are shifting, it might now be the Lincoln Street core that would be at a disadvantage, with the many artists now working out of Stormwater Studios, and the legacy audiences sustained by Lewis+Clark and One Eared Cow.

COVID-19, of course, puts a premium on making the best of all the challenges facing the arts in the Vista. Roefs reported that while business at if ART began to pick up in January, the last three months of 2020 were “dead.” The need to give his and other art spaces an infusion of excitement and revenue loomed large as the Vista Guild figured out how to make Artista Vista work this April — amid continued coronavirus concerns.

The lantern parade from years past has been transformed into an online lantern creation workshop available throughout the weekend, and virtual gallery tours will be presented on the Vista’s YouTube channel for anyone uncomfortable attending in person. COVID-19 protocols, which you can find at, are in place for all events.

“With planning the same event a year ago, and then, you know, being able to work through all the changes that are happening, I think that we had an opportunity to put all of our planning in place to make sure that safety is our top of mind,” Anderson, the Vista Guild’s executive director, explained. “And make sure that people can come out and enjoy but know that they can do it in a safe way.”

Artista Vista

April 16-18. Various locations.

Post and Courier Columbia/Free Times arts coverage is supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at Central Carolina Community Foundation.

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