HARVIN COLUMN: Halsey Institute, Sloan honored with Verner Award

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston is developing a reputation for edgy art and national-caliber programming.

It's golden statue time. The Academy Awards are coming up next Sunday, so that will be the time for stargazing. (The dresses are often works of art in themselves, and George Clooney is certainly easy on the eyes.)

In South Carolina, there is no greater award in the arts than the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Award, and the list of this year's winners is out. The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art won one for arts organization, with a special nod to director Mark Sloan.

Sloan has made the Halsey a place to see provocative work, both from South Carolina and from any place that piques his interest. His choices show work that really has few other venues, and Sloan is now curating traveling shows.

Sloan has been at the Halsey since 1994, when the institute consisted of a single gallery space and little staff except for Sloan and his student assistants. Even then, he was bringing in edgy work, even if sometimes it didn't stand the test of time.

Now, the shows are sure to have you wondering what the artist was thinking, which is the highest compliment to any artist because it means you have engaged with the work. You may not understand it, but you definitely have caught a vibe. The caliber of the work rivals any contemporary gallery in a larger city.

It's a far cry from the pastels and watercolors of Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, who was one of two important early women artists in Charleston. Her work still is wildly popular, often imitated and very collectible. Her street scenes of the heart of downtown Charleston are iconic.

She was an artist who had to support herself and her two children with her work after her husband died young. She painted churches, houses, and food and flower vendors, often making a poor area look romantically beautiful. And when the city threatened to ban the flower vendors because they were a traffic hazard, she went to bat for them at City Hall. In her own way, she was as radical as Sloan.

The awards have been given every year since 1972 in her honor, and it often reads like a who's who in the arts in our state. Other recipients this year are Robert Ariail, R. Scot Hockman, The Self Family Foundation, Sam Wang and Lillian Quackenbush.

For information about the awards, go to www.southcarolinaarts.com/verner.

Combined inspiration

Taking a cue from our love of the visual with the musical, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Woodwind Quintet will perform chamber music of Debussy, Handel and more in the Gibbes Museum of Art rotunda at 4 p.m. Feb. 26. The interlude is inspired by the Gibbes' current exhibition, "Jill Hooper: Contemporary Realist." Surrounded by Hooper's portraits, large-scale landscapes and still-life paintings, the recital will pay tribute to the artist's classical training and mastery of technique.

"We also chose a Claude Debussy piece because as a musician, Debussy was inspired by the contemporary artists of his time who were primarily Impressionists," said CSO Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker.

Hooper is another Charleston artist whose work has earned international recognition. Her work will be on exhibit through April 22.

Tickets are $15 for museum members and students and $25 for nonmembers. The price includes both the concert and museum admission. Purchase tickets online at www.gibbes museum.org/events or by phone at 722-2706, ext. 22.

Starting young

Another gift of art came from the young artists at St. John's High School. They donated framed artwork to the Communities in Schools annual fundraiser, "The Chocolate Affair," that was held Feb. 11.

It's good to see young people giving back to the community through their talents. Mature artists often help raise money for causes through donating their work, so these students are starting early.

St. John's students benefit from the services of Communities in Schools daily, with three CIS Student Support Specialists at the school, and through various community outreach programs including partnerships with MUSC and The Point.

Senior class president Kashe Hamlin donated a landscape and it made $70 for the organization. The total donation of paintings made $130. I hope they got some of that luscious chocolate from the gala!