The Nick has become a cultural powerhouse in state capital

The Nickelodeon's 2017 Indie Grits festival will kick off with a keynote address by Favianna Rodriguez, a transnational interdisciplinary artist and cultural organizer, who will share a message about the power of art to inspire social change. Rodriguez will speak April 19 at the Nickelodeon Theatre, 1607 Main St., Columbia. A reception will take place at 6 p.m., followed by Rodriguez’s talk and the premier of an Indie Grits film block, “El Sur.” Find the complete Indie Grits schedule online. From The Post and Courier Article and photos by Adam Parker

Nickelodeon2AdamParkerWhen the theater opened in 1936, it was one of five on Main Street in downtown Columbia between Blanding and Gervais streets. Now the old Fox Theater is all that’s left, a reminder of the days when Hollywood made escapist entertainments for those enduring the Great Depression and, soon after, World War II. It lay dormant beginning in 1987. Then in 2012, the Nickelodeon moved in after a big renovation project was partially completed. It was a momentous occasion. In April 2015, the renovation was finished, resulting in a second theater for screenings and other events, such as music and variety shows. The team had succeeded in raising $5 million to fund the makeover. The Nickelodeon, or The Nick as locals call it, had been located in a bank building just south of the Statehouse, but now it was in the heart of things. It harks to a time in the city mostly forgotten, and it symbolizes the new Columbia. In an unlikely turn of events it has become a cultural cornerstone of the city, one that has contributed to the revitalization of Main Street as a primary commercial and civic corridor and site of cultural activities. "It's the most adventurous venture in Columbia now," said Ken May, director of the South Carolina Arts Commission. The Nick was founded in 1979 by Carl Davis and Linda O’Connor. It started out as an art house for film lovers, a bohemian space for the alternative and academic crowd. Over the course of 30 years a lot changed: The movie business went digital, its commercial aspirations grew, distributors changed their practices. It was no longer sufficient just to screen indie and foreign films, not if The Nick was to become a vital force in the community. So, in 2007 Andy Smith was hired to start a festival. The Indie Grits Festival was an experiment in multidiscipline programming, an event that combined cinema, visual art exhibitions, live music and creative technology. The experiment has been working. It has drawn increasingly large crowds and expanded its offerings. In the past couple of years, organizers have assigned a theme to the festival. In 2015, the festival explored how technology influenced art-making and culture, naming the event “Future Perfect.” Last year, the theme was water, apropos after the historic 2015 Midlands flooding. The title was “Waterlines.” This year, the theme is Latin American culture, and the title is “Visiones.” The idea first was broached in the fall of 2015, with the intention of organizing a weekend event. But some grant money, input from artists, the powerful “Waterlines” experience and, finally, the myriad ways the theme resonates politically and culturally today convinced The Nick team to go big with “Visiones.” The festival runs April 20-23.

Expanding ideas

The thematic approach was adopted when Seth Gadsden joined The Nick team four years ago. Gadsden, who was an art major at the College of Charleston and co-founded Redux Contemporary Art Center in downtown Charleston in 2003, brought a new dimension to the Columbia enterprise. He helped further integrate the visual arts, and he took the lead in educational outreach. Late last year, The Nick announced that it was expanding its media education programming. Already it was providing resources to media artists, running a filmmaker-in-residence program and working with students in Richland School District One on an art project called “Come Around My Way” that delved into social justice issues. Now it would launch Indie Grits Labs, introduce the new initiative “TakeBreakMake” that provides a safe space for up to 15 young LGBT artists, and contribute to the festival. Indie Grits Labs is no small venture. It signifies a moment of exponential growth, one that acknowledges formally that The Nick is about much more than movies. It is part of a larger reorganization. Smith was promoted to chief executive officer of the Columbia Film Society, the umbrella organization under which The Nick and Indie Grits Labs operate. A new Nick director will oversee the cinema side of things. As a result of the change, Smith, Gadsden and their colleagues, all of whom have many interests, are better able to spread their wings. “Everyone is connected to more than film,” Gadsden said. Smith said the emergence of The Nick as an arts generator and incubator coincided with market and technology forces. “At the same time as our move (to Main Street), Netflix is exploding,” he said. “We saw more interest in media education, we saw it as a way to deepen our involvement with the community. It was our chance to get into the creation of work, to help develop critical viewing skills.” Gadsden pointed out that the school-age kids enrolled in “TakeBreakMake” or “Come Around My Way” might not have normally stepped foot inside an independent theater. Now some of them are volunteers. “Kids would just show up,” he said. So the staff found them something to do. “It’s a safe place for people in a fairly conservative part of the country, where people could come together and explore ideas.”

Having 'Visiones'

If the “Future Perfect” Indie Grits theme demonstrated the great promise of the festival, it was “Waterlines” that brought The Nick to a new level. Before the terrible flooding of October 2015, the team was thinking about adopting a “river” theme. It troubled them and others in Columbia that the Congaree River was so underutilized and underappreciated. Other cities such as San Antonio, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn had redeveloped their waterfronts for public use. But not much was happening along the banks of the Congaree. After the flood, water became the inevitable theme, but now with a large dose of urgency. “How do we respond to what just happened?” the Indie Grits team asked itself. A $50,000 grant from the Central Carolina Community Foundation helped them decide. A cohort of local artists was invited to a brainstorming session. “It became a group-think, collaborative project,” Gadsden said. “I learned a lot about what you can do with a group of artists if you support them and put them in a situation where (they can thrive).” “Waterlines” became a model that Amada Torruella, curator of “Visiones,” happily adopted. She identified artists in South Carolina to form the 2017 cohort, seeking not just artists, but artists who are teachers and innovators and community organizers, 11 Latinos of various backgrounds who met monthly to formulate the festival. The process began with optimism in the air: How was the Latino community changing the Southeast? After the presidential election, though, the tone darkened, for now Latinos were perceived by many as a threat, Torruella said. “We had to channel the negative energy,” she said. The cohort of artists includes a few Mexicans, two Colombians, two Ecuadorians, a Chilean and a Puerto Rican. Disciplines include photojournalism, music, filmmaking and more. “Since the project is pretty heavy on identity, one filmmaker is making an 'Identity Map' for people to follow,” Torruella said. The map will lead patrons through the outdoor showcase from one video installation to another. Screen printing workshops will be open to all in the Latino community, because “art should be as accessible as possible,” Torruella said. A puppet troupe from Mexico will perform. Food trucks will be strategically positioned downtown. And the musical headliners Lambchop and Curtis Harding will perform. For the film component of the festival, 80 movies are scheduled (from 400 entries received). About one-third of them are by Latino filmmakers or have Latino themes. The goal is to create a public space where people can share stories that humanize them.

'Very communitarian'

The Nick’s staff constantly is thinking strategically about artistic and community purpose and direction. They team up with nonprofits such as the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which serves the Latino population, schools and government. “They’ve just become this real groundbreaking organization, not just in the city, but in the state,” said May, of the Arts Commission. “It’s quirky, interesting.” Ambitious, too, able to secure significant funding from groups like the Ford Foundation, he said. “Andy’s a very thoughtful, smart young guy who makes an impression on people like that,” he said “They’re very communitarian, but also committed to adventurous art. When you see something like that coming out of a place like South Carolina, I think it gets extra points. ... They just keep doing new things. And they’re restless.” This probably accounts for the growing popularity of The Nick and its eclectic programming. Smith said he and his colleagues always are asking questions, challenging themselves: “How can we strategically use the arts to make our community stronger, to make Columbia, to make South Carolina, a better place to live?” It’s an important consideration, especially in light of current trends. “The support structures (for the arts) in our state have really eroded,” Smith noted. Funding is always uncertain. The Richland-Lexington Cultural Council shut down a couple years ago. So the Columbia Film Society is positioning itself as a granting organization. And The Nick provides an opportunity to bring festival artists back into the fold after Indie Grits events are finished. Today, The Nick has an annual budget of $1.3 million, half of which is derived from earned income. Its membership, now at more than 3,000 individuals, keeps setting records. “We’re still scratching the surface of who we serve in the community,” Smith said. Image above: Amada Torrulla (left) is curator of "Visiones," this year's Indie Grits Festival. Seth Gadsden (center), is co-organizer of the festival and in charge of The Nickelodeon's education program. Andy Smith (right) is executive director and CEO of the Columbia Film Society, which oversees the Nick.

South Carolina Ballet production to celebrate human spirit in response to Emanuel AME shootings

From the Charleston Post and Courier Article by Adam Parker

When William Starrett, artistic director of the Columbia City Ballet, received in 2002 an Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, artist Jonathan Green delivered the remarks at the ceremony. Green was impressed enough by Starrett’s accomplishments to offer the ballet director a painting to auction as a fundraiser. Starrett was speechless and grateful. Once he gathered himself, he said he wanted to make a ballet based on Green’s art. Three years and $1.2 million later, the ballet company presented "Off the Wall and Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green." At the end of each vignette, dancers formed a tableau mimicking one of Green’s paintings, then a huge screen dropped to the stage revealing an enlarged reproduction of the original piece of art. Arguably, the show is to Columbia City Ballet what “Revelations” is to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: a beloved cornerstone of its repertoire that helps define the company. Now the dance troupe is working again with Green and several others to produce a new work that honors the victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, their families and the broader community, whose members continue to grapple with the significance and aftermath of a terrible crime. “Emanuel: Love is the Answer” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. April 1 at the Sottile Theatre, 44 George St., with support from the Patrick Family Foundation and the South Carolina Arts Commission. The ballet will include a series of danced vignettes involving 22 of the company’s 32 dancers, Starrett said. “This is my effort to make sense of all this, and to heal from it,” he said. The multimedia production is by the South Carolina Ballet, an enterprise of Columbia City Ballet. It will include projected videos and images: Green’s colorful Gullah-inspired paintings, Jenny Horne’s now-famous General Assembly speech calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds, comments from great spiritual and political leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa, and more. The 90-minute ballet will be organized into three parts, beginning with an exploration of “how we are here and why,” continuing with a survey of the social progress we’ve made in South Carolina and concluding with a rumination on love, fraternity, forgiveness and acceptance, Starrett said. “Dance is a great art form to help unify and bring us together,” he said. Starrett grew up in California, danced professionally with the Royal Winnepeg Ballet, Geoffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theater, then settled in South Carolina 30 years ago to run the Columbia-based ballet company. He said “Emanuel: Love is the Answer” surely has a spiritual dimension, thanks in part to its use of paintings. “All art, especially visual art, is a form of prayer,” he said. Charles “Bud” Ferillo, coordinator of the South Carolina Collaborative for Race and Reconciliation, a project of the University of South Carolina, said his organization endorses the ballet project. Ferillo is helping to promote it. “This ballet is poetry in motion and will be the basis for further healing,” the Charleston native said. "Every citizen, of every race, will benefit from this performance.” Horne said she was driven to deliver her heartfelt speech, credited with pushing reluctant lawmakers to agree to the flag’s removal, because the banner was an offense to her friends. “It was personal.” She had known the Rev. Clementa Pinckney first as a young page at the Statehouse and later as a senator, and his death at the hands of a white supremacist on June 17, 2015, was devastating. When she witnessed many thousands of people enduring the summer heat and hoping to gain access to Pinckney’s funeral, she was especially moved, she said. “The image of young and old, black and white, American and people here to tour the city from other countries” — this array of grieving people gave her hope. So in a last-minute, Hail-Mary attempt to convince her colleagues to take down the flag, she delivered her fiery, from-the-heart speech. Though she is no longer serving in the Legislature, her speech continues to reverberate. And now it is part of a work of art. “I’m so grateful to be part of this beautiful tribute to the families, the victims, this church and this city and all of South Carolina,” Horne said. Tickets for the ballet are $25-$45 and available at http://columbiacityballet.com/production/emanuel9/. The company will perform "Emanuel" at the Camden Fine Arts Center on April 4 and at Columbia's Koger Arts Center on April 7 and 8.
 

Take a tour and hear the story behind Seeing Spartanburg in A New Light

If you haven't yet toured Spartanburg's public art exhibition, Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light, here's your chance to do so and get the inside scoop from the creative team behind the project. The Chapman Cultural Center is hosting a two-day celebration of Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light beginning February 16 with a panel discussion and Q&A featuring the creative team involved with the project. The program continues February 17 with a tour by trolley of all nine installations, led by project artist Erwin Redl, and concludes with a presentation and reception back at the Chapman Cultural Center. Guests can take advantage of a discounted rate at the Spartanburg Marriott, conveniently located across the street from the Chapman Cultural Center. There will also be access to other local cultural institutions and exhibitions. One of four recipients of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light is a large-scale public art exhibition that features nine original artworks by renown light and media artist Erwin Redl installed throughout 10 neighborhoods in Spartanburg. This project is an unprecedented partnership between Spartanburg's Chapman Cultural Center, Mayor Junie White, and the Police Department to use public art as a platform for building stronger relationships between local residents and police officers. Please RSVP by February 10, 2017 to Renee Denton at info@seeingspartanburg.com or (864) 278-9685. Via: Chapman Cultural Center

Thin Ice: Art professor saves National Park glaciers as woodcut prints, work acquired by national galleries

Todd Anderson, a printmaker and assistant professor of art at Clemson University, received a South Carolina Arts Commission Quarterly Grant for this project. The next deadline is February 15. Image above: Todd Anderson, assistant professor of art and printmaking at Clemson University, displays one of his reductive woodblock prints in “The Last Glacier”, an artist book of 23 image plates of glaciers in Glacier National Park, Montana, by him, Bruce Crownover and Ian van Coller. Image Credit: Ken Scar / Clemson University

From Clemson University Article by Clinton Colmenares CLEMSON — With a heavy mug of coffee in one hand, Todd Anderson moves through his personal studio like a chef moving through a four-star kitchen: fluidly, efficiently, among the tools of his trade: neatly stacked cans of paint sorted by color, saws and drills tucked away without a hint of sawdust, brushes hanging neatly, chisels gleaming. Every label of every can and jar and bottle faces outward, lest confusion disrupt the rhythm of his work. Anderson, an assistant professor of art at Clemson University, is a printmaker, skilled at transferring beauty and wonder from landscapes onto paper to share his experiences with the public. When guests arrive at his studio, which used to be his garage, Anderson slips on a pair of shoes, turns off a stream of classical jazz and begins to tell a story about his latest project, which recently gained national attention.
“I think we all understand that the world is changing in sweeping and dramatic ways,” Anderson says, his voice quiet and earnest. “My belief is that those places need to be seen, they need to be experienced and they need to be creatively documented.” It’s a holy trinity that guides his work. Since its founding 100 years ago, Glacier National Park has lost more than 80 percent of its glaciers. Over the past six years, Anderson says, he hiked more than 500 miles through that park for a project called “The Last Glacier.” He and two collaborators, painter Bruce Crownover and photographer Ian van Coller, recently finished the project, resulting in original artwork that includes 15 specially bound 25- by 38-inch books with Anderson’s original prints, Crownover’s paintings and van Coller’s photos. “My intent as an artist is to share the beauty of a changing world,” Anderson says. In demand The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the New York Public Library are sharing the work; they each bought a book on the spot. The Library of Congress bought another. Clemson’s Emery A. Gunnin Architecture Library, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Yale, and several private collectors have also invested in the artistic, historical records. The Last Glacier quickly garnered the kind of attention artists dream of. But Anderson couldn’t look lighter, more carefree. He says he spent a great deal of his life camping, hiking and climbing his way through the Rocky Mountains, sleeping with the stars overhead. It’s easy to picture him on a mountain in a three-day beard and a worn flannel shirt, accidentally hip. On being outside, Anderson says, “If you’ve felt frost on a sleeping bag, or seen dew on cobwebs in the woods, you can understand the value of that experience.” Rock climbing shaped his arms and hands; they’re strong, purposeful. His blue eyes sparkle with an infinite appreciation for wonder, reflecting a scientist’s curiosity and exacting patience. There are stories in those hands and eyes, and a quiet urgency to tell them.
Image from above of a glacier, mostly white but with a large area of blue water. An Anderson woodcut print of the Grinnell glacier in Glacier National Park. In the late oughts, Anderson heard the Rockies’ glaciers were melting. “My first thought was, this is the environment that I love, these alpine environments, the beauty of these places. I felt sad, first and foremost. And then I thought, ‘Well, who is documenting these places?’” When months of searching for someone recording the glacial recession turned up empty, Anderson decided to do it himself. “It was really out of a sense of responsibility,” he says. The three collaborators are currently wrapping up a second project, documenting glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park. Anderson is also waiting to hear about a grant from the National Science Foundation that would send him to Antarctica. The Last Glacier is a compelling and invaluable work, said Gary Machlis, the University Professor of Environmental Sustainability and scientific adviser to the director of the National Park Service for eight years until early January 2017. “Climate change is the environmental challenge of our age, and responding to this challenge requires a constellation of voices — including those of artists like Todd. “Art can be a portal for understanding in a visceral, emotional way what science attempts to demonstrate through theory, data and analysis,” Machlis said. “Todd’s work is powerful, and his collaborative team is unique and so committed to their task. Viewing the images in ‘The Last Glacier’ is a reminder of what is at risk and what might be lost if we do not act.” In 1910, there were 150 glaciers within the new 1 million-acre Glacier National Park in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. When Anderson started his work, in 2010, all but 25 had melted. Glaciers, the marvelous remnants of the last ice age, are made from the bottom up by layer upon layer of snow that melts into ice, the accumulating weight pressing the earth, picking up and setting down boulders as they slide incrementally. For the past 7,000 years, the glaciers in the park have stretched for miles, like giant beached whales caught between mountains and frozen by time. Melting ice, rising seas 
In a valley once filled by a glacier, there now are three lakes. Lakes dot a valley in Glacier National Park that a glacier once filled. Photo courtesy Todd Anderson.

When glaciers melt they don’t simply disappear, they become water. Increasingly, they’re adding to rising sea levels. Melt from all the glaciers and ice sheets in the world are responsible for two-thirds of global sea level rise (the rest is attributed to warming seas), according to Andrew Fountain a glaciologist at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, who agreed to write a scientific note about the next project by Anderson and his colleagues. Twenty years ago, Fountain said, alpine glaciers, like the ones in Glacier National Park, were the first to melt. “Now Greenland is beginning to melt,” he said. By 2040, with a 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperature, sea levels will rise significantly along 90 percent of the world’s coastlines, affecting hundreds of millions of people, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Fountain has introduced many artists to the wilderness in Antarctica, where he conducts some of his research. When Anderson asked him, out of the blue, to contribute to an artistic project, Fountain considered it a way to tell more people about the melting glaciers. “Getting this information out to people is super important,” said Fountain. “It’s a gateway to science. I might be attracted to the subject by graphs and plots, but others might be attracted by art.” It’s a symbiotic relationship, Anderson said, as scientists wrap the art in a scientific context. “Working with scientists is very critical to my projects. We’re trying to bridge gaps and we’re trying to connect with as many folks as we can,” Anderson said. “What the scientists provide is things that we can’t provide – analytical analysis and whole, unique perspectives of what’s going on with the landscape.” There is also common ground among artists and scientists, and aficionados of each. Science, Fountain said, can be incredibly creative, like when it’s time to choose the right approach to finding a solution. And when looking at Anderson’s art, the glaciologist sees clues to the glacier’s life, such as whether it’s advancing or retreating. Democratic medium After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Anderson found work at Tandem Press, an international printing house affiliated with UW’s School of Education. Tandem has a tradition of attracting famous artists to experiment and print in its studio. David Lynch, Chuck Close, Art Spiegelman and Judy Pfaff are among its alumni. Essentially, Anderson worked with artists accustomed to producing singular pieces of art and helped them create prints that “would be totally and wholly unique, but you could make 20 or 30 of these things and more people could have it.” Printmaking, he said, “is an inherently democratic medium, and for me that was really what grabbed me.” “The Last Glacier” project is similarly intended to be shared with the masses, Anderson said. “Our mission is to get the work into the public sphere,” he said. And he wants future masses to experience the work, which makes acquisitions by the Met, the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress special. “One of the things I want to do as an artist is to talk about the immediacy of things going on in the world. But art, as I understand it and the way I approach it, it’s a multigenerational conversation,” Anderson said. In museums, “when we look at a painting from the 1800s it helps us understand what people’s values were, what people thought about. “It’s just as important when future generations who go to museums and get to see this work. It’s not just saying, ‘Oh, there used to be a glacier here,’ but it’s also saying, ‘This is a little bit about us.’ In a very, very small way. Of what we valued as a society and what we thought about, the challenges we were trying to face and engage.” Working with collaborators also amplifies the message and grows the audience. Anderson initially planned to work alone, but the glaciers were so vast and distant – 10 to 15 miles from an access road – that he enlisted Crownover and van Coller to help cover the territory. The result, Anderson said, is “three very unique artistic visions of essentially the same thing. The hope is that by presenting the viewer with three different versions of three different artists, that folks might be able to latch on. If they don’t like my work, maybe they’ll really like Bruce’s. Or if they don’t like Bruce’s, maybe they’ll like Ian’s.”
An artist uses a small chisel to slowly carve the image of a glacier. Todd Anderson, assistant professor of art and printmaking at Clemson University, carves out a “stamp” to create a reductive woodcut print of a glacier for “The Last Glacier”. (Photo by Ken Scar)

Mirroring the glaciers  If you’ve stood on a glacier, or on a mountain two miles high, standing in front of Anderson’s finished prints will stir a familiar chill in the air, as if someone opened a window 10,000 feet up. The prints reveal scars from the violent upheaval, subduction and collision of the Earth’s crust. You’ll feel the cool blues of the ice, the ancient gray of the rock and yellow, purple, pink and blue of sunrises and sunsets seen through thin air. Anderson spent weeks each summer working in situ, researching the glaciers – which ones to document, how to access them, seeing them at different times of day as the sun shifted shadows and revealed new details. He hiked, sketched and photographed, getting to know each one before it ceased to exist. Back in his studio, where the prints come to life, a mixture of fluorescent bulbs balance the blues, reds and greens to shine as white as possible. In the middle of the space sits a printing press, perched atop tiny feet, perfectly level. The press is new; at least it’s new to Anderson. It arrived recently by freight to his home in one of Clemson’s leafy neighborhoods. The press is his six-burner gas range, where the ingredients of his art – science, nature, light and the wonder of the Rocky Mountains — mingle and fuse. Slowly, they develop as reductive woodcut prints in a process involving time, pressure and the deliberate carving of a landscape until nothing is left but a picture, a life cycle that mimics his subjects. Anderson chose to recreate the glaciers as woodcut prints because, he says, he wanted “an organic, visual language,” and woodcuts, by their nature, provide a “visual texture.” Both glaciers and prints are constructed of layers, but  while glaciers are built from the bottom, prints begin at the top. They require the artist to complete the piece in his mind, then work backward. Anderson transfers a sketch to a rectangular block of basswood, imported from Japan, then begins working in negative space – using fingers and hands that once routinely clung to rock to slowly, expertly, carve away wood, creating an image by removing what he doesn’t want in the print. The first layer he carves away, from the top of the block, will be the first image on the paper, the bottom layer of color. “I might do that 10, 15 or 20 times. So I’ll have 15 or 20 sheets of paper that look the same,” he says. “Once I’m done doing that, I’ll take that same block of wood, clean it off, carve it out a little bit more, I’ll ink it up with a new color this time, then I’ll print it on top of what I printed before.” He has to print light colors first, and he’s constantly calculating “the value of the color and the opacity of my ink, so that I can make a whole image look right. At least in my mind how it looks right.” One layer, one carving, one color, one pressing at a time, all the while thinking backwards, or upside down, removing negative space from the top that becomes the bottom. Eventually, the full image appears. But, at a cost. “By the time I get done making these artworks, the blocks themselves are really exhausted, and there’s no way of going back and remaking the artwork,” Anderson says. “The process is mirroring the fate of the glaciers themselves.” Anderson said he doesn’t create “message” art. He’s not delivering a political statement. Not directly, anyway. “There’s a complexity to these ideas” of art, experience, climate change, he said. “What I’m trying to present as an artist is visual complexity. But there’s moments where, when it works right, you can get lost in these things and you start seeing the cobwebs. You start seeing things. There’s an experience that art can give you, which is just wonder, and that’s what I’m trying to do.” Anderson received funding from the South Carolina Arts Commission, the Sustainable Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts for this work. For more information, and to see the work by Crownover and van Coller, go to TheLastGlacier.com.

Photographer Cecil Williams tells students about growing up in the segregated South

Note: The S.C. African American Heritage Foundation received an Arts in Education Project grant to help fund an artist residency featuring photographer Cecil Williams. Images above: The South Carolina Arts Commission's State Art Collection includes three works by Williams. (click on an image for larger view.) From SCNow.com Article and photo by Joe Perry

Cecil Williams Cecil Williams LAMAR, S.C. – Life under segregation in South Carolina was not easy, but Cecil Williams was there with his camera, capturing history as it was made. The 79-year-old Orangeburg native spoke on Jan. 9 to students at Lamar High School as part of a two-day residency that included a presentation that night at Black Creek Arts Council and an appearance at Mayo High School in Darlington. The residency is funded through the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation and S.C. Arts Commission. Williams got his first camera when he was 9 years old as his brother’s interests turned to music and playing the saxophone. Williams was instantly enthralled with the Kodak “Baby Brownie,” he said, and he figured out “a little hustle” early on. With 12 exposures, he’d go to Edisto Gardens to photograph couples. Developing the film cost a dollar. “That means I would make 11 dollars,” he said, laughing. His career and subject matter, though, soon turned to how he saw the disadvantages African-Americans faced. As part of his slideshow, Williams shared photos that reached millions of people through publications such as Life and Newsweek magazines and The New York Times, while his primary employer was JET magazine. “How was it back then for African-Americans at the time?” he said. “When people, just because of the color of their skin, don’t have the same rights as other people?” Williams was chased out of the courthouse in Orangeburg for taking a photo of a restroom marked "Colored." Not one to shy away from controversy, he photographed a family victimized by the Ku Klux Klan. He told the students a cross was burned on their lawn because the grandson was deemed “sassy” for looking at a white person. His family’s heritage is Native American, Caucasian and African-American, he said, but they were considered people of color, and when a family trip to North Carolina came to a halt because their car broke down, they couldn’t find a place to stay. “This was probably what would be I-95 today,” he said, showing a photo of the broken-down car and his family. One of his most requested photos, he told the students, was from a march in downtown Orangeburg with students holding signs that said "FREEDOM" and "DOWN WITH SEGREGATION." Another of his well-published photos depicted teachers in Elloree fired for refusing to disavow the NAACP. He recalled he was probably paid $50 for a photo, which was a significant amount at the time “and encouraged me to go forward.” One of his most exciting times was personally meeting John F. Kennedy, then a Massachusetts senator who was aspiring to become president. “I became a good acquaintance of him and shared my pictures with him,” he said, and Williams even wrangled a seat on Kennedy's campaign plane as the lone member of the press. The most pivotal time of his life and career came in 1968, several years after the landmark Civil Rights Act had been passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. “Everything had been opened up,” he said. “But not in Orangeburg, South Carolina.” A bowling alley that was still segregated prompted a demonstration by students that resulted in a melee ending with the shooting deaths of three African-American men. “Total disregard for human life,” he said. “They injured 27 and killed three young men, who were my friends, just because they wanted to bowl in a bowling alley, and they wanted the right to demonstrate.” Whether it was the Orangeburg Massacre or demonstrations in Columbia and Charleston, Williams said, he wasn’t there solely to capture history. “At the time it was unavoidable and, you might say, the thing to do,” he said. “Had I not been there with a camera, I would have been there as a student or participant myself. So I was an eyewitness and participant.” At one point in his life, Williams said, he wanted to study architecture at Clemson University but wasn’t able to because of his skin color. He nonetheless designed several homes and has spent time with inventions as well; one of those, the Film Toaster, is something he spent years tinkering with. Used to digitize decaying negatives, the Film Toaster – patent pending – has allowed him to preserve his legacy and ensure his archives remain in good shape. With grant funding, there are five Claflin University students working with two Film Toasters to keep his historical record intact. “I’m trying to show what it was like growing up in the middle of a revolution, one of the most significant revolutions of mankind,” Williams said. “It made America and the world a better place.”

In Search of the Hunter Family Furniture Tradition

Hunter Family Child's Rocker Hunter Family child's rocker Hand-hewn wooden chairs with woven corn shuck seats are hallmarks of the Hunter family tradition, with examples found in museums and private collections throughout South Carolina. If you are one of those lucky private collectors, McKissick Museum wants to document and photograph your treasure for your reference and for inclusion in the McKissick Folklife Resource Center archive. Bring your chair to In Search of the Hunter Family Furniture Tradition February 11 from 1 – 4 p.m. at the museum, 816 Bull St. in Columbia. Free parking is available at McKissick Museum and in the Pendleton Street Garage, where metered spaces are free on Saturdays. This free event (open to everyone, not just chair owners) features a round table discussion with Hunter family members, woodworkers, seat weavers, scholars, collectors and conservators, including Hunter family historian Brenda Hunter Hanley, chair maker Harold Hunter, restoration and woodworks specialist Charles Boykin, and Southern furniture historian George Williams. Jeremy and Rebecca Wooten of Wooten & Wooten will provide documentation photography. In Search of the Hunter Family Furniture Tradition is held in conjunction with African American History Month and with the yearlong exhibition, A Compass to Guide: South Carolina Cabinet Makers Today. In addition to the pieces in the exhibit, McKissick Museum will present a pop-up display of Hunter family chairs to compare and contrast. Co-presented by the Columbia Woodworkers and the Greenville Woodworkers Guild, A Compass to Guide explores the inspiration behind diverse woodworking traditions of contemporary South Carolina furniture makers. This exhibition represents year four of McKissick’s Diverse Voices series, which celebrates the traditional arts and folkways of the Southeastern United States. In Search of the Hunter Family Furniture Tradition is made possible through support from the South Carolina Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, James A. Brannock Personal Property Appraisals LLC, Mann Tool & Supply, Inc., Greenville Woodworkers Guild, and Carolina Refinishing Supplies. For more information, visit McKissick Museum's website or call (803) 777-7251.

On your toes: Ballet Spartanburg celebrating 50th anniversary

Ballet Spartanburg receives a General Operating Support grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission. From the Spartanburg Herald-Journal Article by Dan Armonaitis; photo by Tim Kimzey

(Image: Spartanburg Ballet dance company principal dancers, from left, Nichola Montt, Will Scott, Analay Saiz, Will Robichaud, and Meghan Loman, rehearse at the Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg) When a group of 85 ballet enthusiasts and visionaries, led by the late Majorie Riggs, got together in 1966 to form what would later become known as Ballet Spartanburg, few could have imagined the tremendous growth the organization would experience over the next half-century. But as it celebrates its 50th anniversary during the 2016-17 season, Ballet Spartanburg has cemented its role as a key member of the city's thriving arts community. The nonprofit organization now has its own professional ballet company and a highly-regarded dance education program. It has also expanded its public outreach and continues to present multiple performances each year. "When it was chartered as the Ballet Guild of Spartanburg, the concept was basically just to be a presenting organization," Ballet Spartanburg executive director Teresa Hough said. "But over the years we've offered so much more." The 50th anniversary season kicked off with a family-friendly ballet, "The Little Mermaid," in October, and Ballet Spartanburg is gearing up now for its annual production of the holiday classic, "The Nutcracker," which will be performed Friday, Saturday and Dec. 11. The 2016-17 season will continue in February with an intimate performance, "Fire & Passion," which is part of Ballet Spartanburg's Studio Series. DanSynergy 9, with a theme of "Celebrating the Power of Women," will be presented in March, followed by "An American in Paris" in April. "Education certainly is a very important part of our mission and so is the outreach, but the high quality of the performances that we present to the audiences is also very important," said Carlos Agudelo, who has served as Ballet Spartanburg's artistic director since 1991. "We see the growing enthusiasm of the people who come to the performances — the standing ovations and just a lot of compliments — and it encourages us. "The thing we want to do with ballet is to explore social themes and other things that are relevant to our society, so, in general, we have to be creative, we have to be open to change and we have to be willing to develop new experiences." In its first few decades, Ballet Spartanburg presented performances by some of the most notable ballet companies in the world, including the National Ballet of Washington, D.C., Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. It also hosted a 1988 performance by international ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev, who substituted for an injured Mikhail Baryshnikov. "I sat in the third row and I remember looking up at (Nureyev) and being like, 'I cannot believe this is happening,'" Hough said. "That was a major fundraiser, and it was just great." Since 2013, Ballet Spartanburg has had its own professional dance company, which has added a new dynamic to the performances and to the educational and public outreach aspects of the organization. The only professional dance company in the Upstate and one of only three in South Carolina, Ballet Spartanburg hires top-notch dancers from around the world to showcase their respective talents. "It's amazing that (Ballet Spartanburg) has been around for 50 years and that it's been so successful," said Nichola Montt, a Boston native and member of Ballet Spartanburg's professional company. "They've got a really great community here, and I think a lot of it has to do with the hard work that Carlos and (ballet mistress) Lona (Gomez) put into it." Having its own professional company allows Ballet Spartanburg to present high-quality performances without having to hire outside professionals as it did previously. Now, the students at the Center for Dance Education have an opportunity to work with professional dancers on a regular basis as opposed to only a few days before a public performance as had been the case. "The fact that my 6- and 4-year-old daughters, Wallace and Harriet, get to work with professional ballet dancers in Spartanburg is a huge deal," said Griffin Lynch, who served as president of Ballet Spartanburg from 2012-2014 and took classes with the Dance Center as a youth. Referring to one of Ballet Spartanburg's professional dancers, Lynch added, "Miss Analay (Saiz), who played 'The Little Mermaid,' is both girls' teacher, and for them to be able to sit in the audience and watch their teacher on stage in that role is really inspiring." Will Robichaud, who grew up in Woodruff and took classes at the Dance Center for much of his youth, was recently added to Ballet Spartanburg's roster of professional dancers. He initially got into dance by following in the footsteps of his older sister, Natalie, who is now a business professional in Brooklyn, N.Y. "The discipline that they taught us when we were really young has definitely stuck with us," Robichaud said. Robichaud's mother, Amy, said the lessons her children learned from Ballet Spartanburg can be carried throughout life. "When our daughter, Natalie, started an entry-level job, she said she remembered Carlos saying, 'there is no small part, everybody has to do their own part,'" Amy Robichaud recalled. "And when Will went to study with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, he had not only very sound technical training but he also had an appreciation for the hard work you have to put into it." The vision for the Center for Dance Education started in 1967 when the late Barbara Ferguson began teaching ballet classes. The actual dance school opened in 1976. Now, nearly 400 students, from toddlers to senior citizens, study dance through programs offered by the Center for Dance Education. Gomez said one of the reasons for the school's success is its emphasis on teaching dance in a non-competitive environment. "In this day and age, children are used to very quick rewards," said Gomez, who is in her 22nd season with Ballet Spartanburg. "Here, we want them to understand that it's a journey. Not everybody advances at the same pace. "It's about learning things slowly and mastering them, and then when you have mastered them, you go on to the next level. You're not supposed to compare yourself to the person next to you. We try to celebrate their individuality." The classroom methods used by Gomez and Agudelo seem to be effective, given the success of many of the Center for Dance Education's alumni. Among those who have gone on to pursue ballet as a career are McGee Maddox, now a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, and Chase Brock, now a prolific choreographer whose credits include the Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark." "Our goal is to develop the students' full potential and give them opportunities to perform," Agudelo said, "but we also want to develop their kinesthetic intelligence, which facilitates other academic forms of learning and teaches life skills." Throughout the years, Ballet Spartanburg has continued to increase its public outreach. The organization works with area schools, offering ballet demonstrations and a free annual performance of "Peter and the Wolf" while also providing summer programs for at-risk youths in inner-city housing projects and at the Boys and Girls Club of the Upstate. Ballet Spartanburg gives performances at nursing homes, hospitals, and various community events while also offering classes for students with special needs, including Parkinson's disease patients. And three years ago, it began presenting a sensory-sensitive production of "The Nutcracker," geared primarily to students from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind. "My wife Roberta and I are in health care, and their Parkinson's class is something that's truly amazing," said Tom Jennings, who served as president of Ballet Spartanburg from 1996-1998. "They're one of the few ballet companies in the United States that do these classes, and that's probably one of the things I'm most delighted about." Ballet Spartanburg is housed in the Chapman Cultural Center. "We are not a huge metropolis where you'd normally find a ballet company, so it's really special what we have here," said Chapman Cultural Center president and CEO Jennifer Evins, who was a Ballet Spartanburg board member in the mid-1990s. "It's pretty rare to have dance presented four or five times a year in a city our size, but I think it's a reflection of our entire community and how we value the arts." Hough said Ballet Spartanburg, as a nonprofit, would not have endured for the past 50 years without the support of corporate sponsors and individual donors. "We're extremely fortunate to have so many people who believe in what we're trying to accomplish," she said. "We're all about culture, we're about diversity, we're about collaborations, and we're about creativity. We're not about just being a teeny, tiny little school that's just for the served; we're for the underserved and for bringing in those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to dance." For more information about Ballet Spartanburg, the Center for Dance Education, and upcoming performances visit www.balletspartanburg.org.

One Columbia gives Terrance Henderson the 2016 Steve Morrison Visionary Award

From The Free Times Article by Kyle Peterson

Terrance HendersonThe arts and history non-profit One Columbia has announced its 2016 Steve Morrison Visionary Award winner is Terrance Henderson, a dynamic creative presence in Columbia as an actor, dancer, educator and choreographer. The annual award, now in its third year, is presented to an individual who is a true leader in driving the artistic growth and vitality of the city. Born in Newberry and a Columbia resident since 1996, Henderson has served as a long-term artist in residence at both Logan and A.C. Moore Elementary Schools where he teaches dance and drama, but his role in the arts community extends far beyond that. He has long focused on art that illuminates provocative societal issues in both his theatrical work and original creations, while also striving to provide opportunities for those not formally trained in either dance or theatre. Along the way he’s won awards from the Jazz Dance World Congress in Chicago, the South Carolina Arts Commission’s Fellowship in Performance, Broadway World and Jasper magazine (where, full disclosure, I serve as assistant editor). Some of his more recent creations include The Black Man … Complex at Trustus Theatre, Ruins as part of Harbison Theatre’s MTC Performance Incubator, and Blank Page Poetry: Words and Shadows at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. Henderson’s selection marks a turn from past award winners like Columbia City Ballet Artistic and Executive Director William Starrett and Riverbanks Zoo Director Satch Krantz, both of whom are more senior figures in the community. As a vital and contemporary artistic force in the, and one explicitly engaged in political and social issues, this perhaps indicates a shift towards more daring and cutting-edge figures that are being celebrated for their work in the moment and their future potential, rather than people with long histories in the Columbia arts scene. Henderson will be formally presented with his award Nov. 12 on Main Street in Columbia during the Jam Room Music Festival.

Using recycled materials, Jarod Charzewski’s site-specific installation targets consumerism

Jarod Charzewski is the South Carolina Arts Commission's 2016 Visual Arts Fellow. Applications for the next round of Fellowships are due November 1.

From The Free Times

Article by August Krickel

Soil is on view Oct. 27 - Dec. 8 at USC's McMaster Gallery, 1615 Senate St., Columbia. Opening reception: Oct. 27 from 5 - 7 p.m.

Image above: Jarod Charzewski’s Scarp

Artist Jarod Charzewski sits on a pile of lumber in the University of South Carolina’s McMaster Gallery. Next to him is a larger mound of salvaged inner tubes and bicycle tires. Over the next six days, Charzewski, an associate professor of sculpture at the College of Charleston, will use these materials to create a site-specific installation for his solo exhibition Soil.

He hopes to make a statement on contemporary consumer culture and on what he describes as the abundant “quantity of wasted materials, and the unsustainability of consumer practice.”

“Something really struck me when I was very young,” Charzewski recalls, “when I found out that my elementary school was built on a landfill site, and that immediately grabbed a hold of my imagination. I thought of being able to cut open the earth and look at layers of trash. Throughout my career, I’ve built these different kinds of landscapes out of different things. It’s about being able to round up large quantities of materials, and it’s astonishingly easy to accumulate these things, and that becomes part of the piece.”

He’s done similar work before, but never with inner tubes. His installation Scarp opened at the College of Charleston in 2008, consisting of some 5,000 articles of clothing, borrowed from — and later returned to — Goodwill. A wooden and cardboard framework fixed the garments in multicolored layers, suggesting geological formations, much as he plans for Soil.

In an artist’s statement for the Columbia installation Charzewski says “the materials will be organized and positioned neatly in the gallery to create the appearance of sedimentary layers of earth. This aesthetic will reference the transitional Columbia, South Carolina, landscape, as it is located on the cusp of the Lowcountry and the Appalachian Mountains. All materials will be recycled after the exhibition closes.”

Charzewski describes how he will build a detailed and calculated framework with the lumber, stretching the tires and tubes on top of it.

He anticipates “a lot of experimentation and figuring it out — that’s something I teach my students all the time. You can’t Google how to do this. You have to think quickly and be resourceful. ... I get into the site, and feel it out, and see what I need to do.”

Named by the South Carolina Arts Commission as 2016’s Visual Arts Fellow, Charzewski has several permanent installations in restaurants and corporate lobbies in Charleston and is working on a permanent outdoor piece for the Blythewood branch of the Richland Library.

McMaster Gallery Director Shannon Lindsey says that the themes in Charzewski’s work appealed to the gallery’s selection committee, which reviewed some 150 submissions after a call for artists for the current season.

“We were looking for interdisciplinary artists who may not define themselves through one particular craft or medium, or that could really appeal to all the facets that we offer here in the School of Visual Art and Design,” she says.

Charzewski’s proposed project presented unique challenges. Unlike a painter, he couldn’t simply unload finished work and hang it. Instead, he must physically be in the space before beginning work. Art students will help with the construction, and the artist will give lectures to classes in the School of Earth, Ocean and Environment.

For Charzewski, the environment has always been an influence. Raised in Manitoba, Canada, the artist says that “it’s hard to grow up in the prairies without thinking about wide, open spaces, and that sense of the infinite. Any place you grow up informs who you are, your psychology, and your makeup, and that has always translated into my work.”

Black Heroes Matter

Note: Sanford Greene, and Preach Jacobs, author of this article, received Artists' Ventures Initiative grants from the South Carolina Arts Commission in 2011. Letters of Intent for the next grant round are due January 11, 2017. Working with Luke Cage, two South Carolina natives lead an important moment in comics From The Free Times Article by Preach Jacobs Image above: Sanford Greene, an artist in residence at Marvel, sketches at his Columbia home. Photo by Daniel Hare

Marvel’s X-Men comic was first released in 1963 at the height of the civil rights movement. Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, the comic focused on super-powered beings called “mutants” being persecuted in a divided country. The mutants themselves were largely separated into two different factions following two powerful leaders with different theories on how to handle regular humans: Charles Xavier was a man of peace striving for mutants and humans to live together; Magneto wanted justice for humanity’s crimes against the mutants. Over the years, people have hinted that Stan Lee’s inspirations for the characters were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Indeed, Magneto even invokes Malcolm with the phrase “by any means necessary” in the first X-Men film. Stan Lee has never confirmed the connection, but he did mention in a 2000 interview that the X-Men were “a good metaphor for what was happening with the civil rights movement in the country at the time.” Last month, 53 years after X-Men arrived,  Marvel Studios — the comic giant’s prodigious, profit-churning film and television arm — debuted the series Luke Cage on Netflix. The show features a tall, bald African-American superhero who’s indestructible. It features a black writer, director and a largely black cast, along with a score composed by Ali Shaheed Muhammad of iconic hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Episodes are named after songs by the rap duo Gang Starr. Once again, Marvel finds itself at the forefront of an important moment in the fight for civil rights. Arriving at a time when prominent, authentically black characters have become more the norm than the exception in both comics and television, Luke Cage, based on the long-running Marvel Comics character, is an affirmation of the progress made in both media, trumpeting the merits of a strong and moral black character — and one that just happens to be a wrongly accused ex-con — as racial divisions grip the country. South Carolina is no stranger to such racial tension — from the heartless slaying of nine souls at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church to Walter Scott’s high-profile death at the hands of a North Charleston Police officer, both in 2015, the state, like many, has been rocked by racially charged tragedies. So it’s appropriate that two Palmetto State exports are involved with recent, politically potent interpretations of Luke Cage. Michael Colter, the actor playing Luke Cage, hails from Columbia, where he attended Benedict College and the University of South Carolina. Sanford Greene, an artist in residence with Marvel since 2011, also attended Benedict. The Charleston native now living in Columbia is the illustrator for Power Man and Iron Fist, the most recent comic version of Cage, who sometimes fights under the Power Man moniker. In addition, the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman (of 42 fame), whose hometown is Anderson. Black Panther, the first black comic book character by Marvel in 1966, was introduced into the company’s film and television continuum, known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in this year’s Captain America: Civil War. The hero is the alter ego of T’Challa, the fictional leader of the African country Wakanda, a nation often abused due to its being home to the rare and nigh-unbreakable alloy vibranium — the stuff used to make Captain America’s shield. Memes circulated the internet this past year with the hashtag #BlackPantherSoLIT, displaying something rarely (if ever) seen associated with a comic book movie: an overwhelming amount of black audience excitement. Anticipated with good reason. Marvel recruited writer-director Ryan Coogler, the mastermind behind the Oscar-nominated Creed. That Rocky reboot had a reported budget of $35 million. Even though the budget for Black Panther, this year’s Captain America: Civil War boasted production costs of $250 million. If Marvel is consistent with their major films, it will be the first time a film with a predominately black cast, writer and director would have so large a budget. Columbia native Mike Colter plays the title role in the Netflix series Luke Cage Columbia native Mike Colter plays the title role in the Netflix series Luke Cage The unapologetic blackness of both the new Luke Cage comic and show — and, likely, Black Panther — can be linked directly to today’s music. More and more, the buying public for hip-hop wants artists to be socially conscious in terms of their blackness. And — given the success of Luke Cage, which was so watched upon its release that it temporarily crashed Netflix  — people want the same thing from their black superheroes. The first teaser trailer for the series featured the Ol’ Dirty Bastard song “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” as well as a cameo from Method Man. Wu-Tang is all over the show. For the fingerprints of hip-hop to be all over both a comic and series at this level is unprecedented. Greene, for one, isn’t at all surprised about the recent emergence of black comic characters on the big and silver screen. He sat down with Free Times earlier this month after getting back from New York Comic Con in support of the new Luke Cage series and comic. “In 2008, I’m at at a Marvel symposium,” Greene recalls, explaining that he overheard someone mention the revered hip-hop producer Pete Rock. “I took a chance, never meeting this man before, walk over to him and introduced myself. I asked the guy what was he saying about Pete Rock and the man responded, ‘He’s my favorite producer of all time.’ I literally asked the man if I could hug him. It turned out to be Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.” Alonso, too, sees these current hip-hop influences as inevitable. “With a diverse catalog of characters — from Luke Cage to Ghost Rider — and a talent pool that grew up to hip-hop — like Sanford — I think Marvel has been poised for this moment,” Alonso tells Free Times. “Across all media platforms — movies, TV and print — we are expressing an ever-growing piece of our creative DNA.” In Netflix’s Luke Cage, with Harlem as the backdrop, the title character is falsely accused of crimes, battles with cops and deals with police brutality and wears a hoodie throughout the series, which show creators say pays homage to slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Music has recently embraced similar sentiments — from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah to the Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly— and Luke Cage appears to be the superhero most in tune with the conscious hip-hop that’s popular today. Qiana Whitted, an associate professor of English and African-American studies at USC, writes and teaches about race and comics. She is the author of Comics and the U.S. South. She sees Luke Cage as delivering something black audiences desperately need. “While Cage’s show should appeal to audiences of all races, the series is also an acknowledgement of the importance of developing quality programming for black viewers,” she reasons. “But perhaps more significantly, Cage’s relevance as an African-American crime fighter will resonate deeply with the growing outrage and activism against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. The racism that Luke Cage will confront in this fictional series is very real and very relevant today.” The Luke Cage character was introduced to the comic world in 1972 following the civil rights movement. Whitted says that this timing was significant. “Racism, drugs and urban poverty were urgent problems for the U.S. at the time, and while Cage’s prison background associated with him in the criminality of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, the pride he expressed in defining his predominantly black Harlem neighborhood from those problems made him the kind of hero that African-American communities could finally celebrate,” she says. “But with Cage fighting against fantastical villains as well as corrupt police, his heroism as an African-American man with bulletproof skin has always carried a distinctive kind of social and political importance.” During a recent interview on the nationally syndicated New York radio show The Breakfast Club, Michael Colter was asked about the show’s focus on social awareness in the black community and issues with social injustice. “It’s funny, we don’t have to do anything. It’s almost like if you want Trump to look like an idiot you let him speak,” Coulter responded “Right now it’s at a fever pitch. We couldn’t have timed it any better. …  So when we put this show out it just happened to be at a crucial time in society where they feel like we really needed this.” Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, in order for Marvel to do these characters justice they have to be willing and interested in portraying the authentic black experience that these characters draw on. When asked if being a black artist working for Marvel comics was ever a difficult thing because of color, Greene thinks quietly before answering. He says that being black didn’t necessarily have “anything to do with difficulties or me working there, but my experiences are ones that are the black experience, so in a way, yes. I’m influenced by hip-hop and that vibe and energy transcends into the art. You see many artists with those influences — like a Khary Randolph, Ed Piskor or even Jason Latour — and you see the hip-hop influence. You see art coming from graffiti. It influenced the way we draw. There was a time that Marvel wasn’t ready for that.” They definitely seem ready now. In addition to Luke Cage and Black Panther, Marvel recently spearheaded a concept called the Variant Covers, allowing artists to reimagine classic hip-hop album covers using superheroes as a backdrop. Sanford did two, recreating De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising cover with X-Men characters and Pete Rock & CL Smoothe’s Mecca and the Soul Brother cover with Hawkeye. Dozens of covers were made and the idea exploded with several big-time recording artists retweeting the covers, flattered by the homage. Sanford remembers speaking with Marvel when the idea was in the infant stages. “I had conversations with Marvel and told them that we had to make these covers as authentic as possible,” he says. “There’s an audience that is ready for something like this but we have to handle it with respect. We have to make sure that the people we are paying homage to support the idea.” For Charlamagne the God, co-host of The Breakfast Club and another South Carolina native, this is nothing new. “This is the thing, it’s always been happening,” he says. “When I was younger, I didn’t even realize Luke Cage was blaxploitation. I just thought it was dope that he had super strength, steel hard skin, and he was set in an environment that I could relate to. Even though I’m from Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I just connected with the backdrop of Luke Cage, not because it was the city but because Harlem was black and his super powers were how black men feel anyway.” Charlamagne also thinks that Luke Cage being bulletproof isn’t an accident when it comes to being black and strong in America. “We have to be super strong and have hard thick skin to survive in America,” he explains. “I think it’s happening now simply because Marvel is successful and if you watch the evolution of Marvel since the first Iron Man, it’s just the right time.” Greene echoes the sentiment, but thinks it’s simple reasoning: Marvel allowed these characters to develop and gave them a chance to be understood. “You can see how with things like black television how shows began to improve showing black culture,” he offers. “Shows like The Jeffersons began to show black characters in a different light and not in the hood. It’s amazing how with Luke Cage you can have a black character that’s a hero for hire and allow other characters to come into the universe like a Thor, a god, and it can actually work. When you see writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates write for Black Panther, you see Marvel’s attention to that detail. Even watching Luke Cage you realize that the show is The Wire with superheroes.” There is an underlying beauty in the Southern — and South Carolina — connection that’s involved with these pivotal black super heroes. It can’t be considered a coincidence that people with such a background are involved in the re-emergence of black Marvel characters. “What is important is the way Cage is presented in the series as a Southerner who runs away from Georgia as urgently as he flees his youth and his past incarceration,” she says. “The South is too often used in comics to convey racism, confinement and conservatism, but I hope it’s also clear that the South is as meaningful as New York in portraying Cage’s complexity as a hero who happens to be black.”