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Susan DuPlessis

Rural arts and culture initiative expands to 15 counties

Addressing local issues with S.C. Arts Commission program

[caption id="attachment_45057" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Mavens join heads and hands to celebrate their local communities and discuss shared challenges in a January meeting in Eastover, South Carolina, hosted by Michael Dantzler. Shown l to r, mavens and their corresponding counties: Brooke Bauer, Catawba Indian Nation/York; Marquerite Palmer, Newberry; Lottie Lewis, Allendale; Betty McDaniel, Pickens; Victoria Smalls, Beaufort; Evelyn Coker, Barnwell; Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Hampton; Libby Sweatt-Lambert, Chester; Luis Rodriguez (seated), Marion; Johnny Davis, Jasper; Michael Dantzler, Richland; and Matt Mardell, Colleton. Photo credit: Sherard Duvall, OTR Media.[/caption]
For Immediate Release

Across South Carolina, an initiative called The Art of Community: Rural SC has taken root, creating new networks, community engagement, partnerships and energy to change minds and build communities together.

The initiative, a program of the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC), poses a central question: “How can we use arts and culture as strategic tools to address local challenges we face?” “It’s growing, and it’s always a learning opportunity,” said Matt Mardell, executive director of the Colleton Museum, Farmers Market and Commercial Kitchen in Walterboro, South Carolina. Mardell is one of the ‘mavens’ for The Art of Community; Rural SC. He said that, as part of this network of rural leaders and their teams, he is “hearing others’ creative solutions to issues we all face.” He and his predecessor, Gary Brightwell, have participated in the initiative with five other mavens from throughout a six-county Lowcountry region since it was conceived in 2015 and launched in 2016. Mavens in other counties include: Lottie Lewis of Allendale; Dr. Yvette McDaniel representing Bamberg; Evelyn Coker of Barnwell; Audrey Hopkins-Williams of Hampton; and Johnny Davis representing Jasper County. The growth Mardell references is an expansion of the initiative in 2019 that includes a broader swath of rural South Carolina. Nine additional mavens represent their communities from the mountains to the sea and myriad cultures in between. They include the following community leaders and their corresponding counties: Kayla Hyatt-Hostetler of Aiken; Victoria Smalls of Beaufort; Lydia Cotton of Berkeley; Libby Sweatt-Lambert representing Chester; Luis Rodriguez representing Marion; Marquerite Palmer of Newberry; Betty McDaniel of Pickens; Michael Dantzler of Richland; and Dr. Brooke Bauer with co-maven Laney Buckley of The Catawba Indian Nation in York County. How does the initiative work? “It’s a framework built with four critical components:  mavens, local teams, partners and advisors coupled with a state arts agency willing to invest in rural and tribal communities in a new way,” said Community Arts Development Director Susan DuPlessis of the arts commission. All 15 teams, created and led by the mavens, gather locally and as a statewide network to get to know each other better, to listen, and to consider their local assets and challenges—ultimately, to learn together. "Mavens are 'the bridges' who make this initiative work," DuPlessis said. "Knowing that I have a community beyond my community has bolstered me in my local work," said maven Lottie Lewis of Allendale. As part of this initiative, Lewis led members of her local team on a fact-finding field trip to Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, in 2019. They went to explore how another small, rural town had spurred connection and growth using arts and culture. They then planned to integrate some of that learning into their local project. “We learned so much from our new friends in Tamaqua,” Lewis said. “We were inspired by how they engaged their local community to share their ideas about where they live.” Allendale’s local project plan, though, along with the plans of the other 14 sites in this initiative, took an unexpected turn beginning in the spring of 2020. “We all had to shift in how we were engaging with one another and ask what our roles are in this moment of quarantine and separation,” according to DuPlessis who said many of the participating teams shifted their focuses to react to the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic and mounting social justice issues. Since March 20, the arts commission has convened mavens in weekly meetings to continue the practice of sharing, listening and learning together. "That's what's been so important to me and other mavens who I now count as dear friends," Lewis said. She also notes the spirit of the initiative which, built on trust and relationships, has allowed for flexibility with grant-funded local projects in this “uncertain time.” Each of The Art of Community: Rural SC teams received a $7,500 grant award in FY20 to engage and build community in ways that use arts and culture strategically. “Project plans in January 2020 didn’t look the same three months later in March,” DuPlessis said. Some communities planning festivals and other gatherings have had to postpone those for now. In a number of cases, mavens and their teams retrofitted their projects to respond to the current context and include the following examples:
  • In Aiken, in addition to getting helpful information out about the pandemic, the local project also incorporated the NextGen fight for equality, justice and respect for all people through the creation of a ‘peaceful protest’ linking them with other students around the country;
  • In Allendale, the local project’s focus became community engagement through a celebration of frontline pandemic workers as ‘hometown heroes;’
  • In Bamberg County, the local team developed a 'Little People's Learning Page' to accompany the local newspaper and address learning in a fun, creative way for students who are isolated from one another;
  • In Barnwell County, the Town of Blackville team developed a new dance called ‘The Wagon Wheel’ to engage its residents on social media in a healthy activity during a time of isolation;
  • In Beaufort County, a collective of Gullah Geechee artists used their voices and talents for public service announcements that address safety protocols for the pandemic;
  • In Berkeley County, a Spanish-language video was created to remind its community of best practices for reducing infection rates; and
  • In Chester County, the town of Fort Lawn team partnered with local businesses and state parks to showcase artists' and entrepreneurs' work to help generate income during this time of economic distress.
[caption id="attachment_45056" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The Allendale Rural Arts Team, led by maven Lottie Lewis,  celebrated its Hometown Heroes June 19 with recognition of front line workers in the face of COVID 19; and the unveiling of a community mural by Hampton County artist Sophie Docalavich. Photo credit: Xavier Blake.[/caption] Other participating communities in the initiative bolstered their local project planning by addressing infrastructure and equipment needs as they anticipate future community gatherings, festivals and local engagement as part of their community building strategies. For instance, in Walterboro where the WHAM Festival, originally set for March 27-29, was cancelled, Matt Mardell re-examined the needs for this inaugural event by purchasing displays for exhibits and creating a website for the festival--WHAMfestival.org. The festival is now tentatively set for Oct. 23-25, 2020. Set within the framework of “arts plus economic development,” Mardell said, “I know when the festival does happen, we will be ready and even better prepared for it.” In addition to implementing local projects, all participants are invited to join additional activities and programs to build their own toolkits for considering the importance of ‘place’ in South Carolina and in their personal lives. They include a community writing workshop series; a field school offering instruction in documentary skills; and asset mapping workshops. These offerings are all coordinated by the arts commission’s Folklife & Traditional Arts Program. In addition to these activities, a rural networking program called CREATE: Rural SC engages rural creative professionals who serve as conduits between the mavens, the local creative economies and the arts commission. "These new networks and learning opportunities are bridging gaps and connecting us in ways we need to be connected in rural communities and across the state," Hampton County Maven Audrey Hopkins-Williams of Estill said. All 15 communities, along with the arts commission, partners and advisors constitute a ‘learning community’ that spans the state and the nation. Its story has been shared in national and state conferences from South Carolina to Iowa and Colorado; and from Detroit to Washington, D.C. using the voices and stories of mavens, advisors and emerging creative leaders. Also, with more than 25 partners in its national Advisory Council, this learning community has access to a wide range of sectors, insights, geographies and resources for community building using arts and culture. Co-chairs for the advisory council are Pam Breaux, president and CEO for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), headquartered in Washington; and Bob Reeder, program director for Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), headquartered in New York City. Looking at the value of community engagement in rural America, Co-Chair Pam Breaux cites The Art of Community: Rural SC as an exemplar for state arts agencies across the country. "This work has become a leading example of ingenuity in funding, partnership and framework creation for state arts agencies across the country," she said. Art of Community: Rural SC Director Susan DuPlessis was invited to share the initiative at a National Press Club briefing in Washington in January 2018; Mardell of Colleton County joined her as the local voice and example of growth and development through arts and culture as demonstrated through the Colleton Museum, Farmers Market and Commercial Kitchen. More than 25,000 'views' resulted on social media from that presentation. The South Carolina initiative was also included within a rural action guide on developing prosperity, produced by the National Governors Association, the National Endowment for the Arts and NASAA. “This initiative is about re-imagining 'place' in terms of assets, not deficits,” said Co-Chair Bob Reeder whose professional work in the field of community development crosses the nation. “We're building on the strengths of local communities and the power of a network that connects to state and national resources,” he said. “Ultimately, this work is about changing minds.” Concurring with Reeder, Advisor Dixie Goswami of Clemson, South Carolina noted that the initiative makes visible local people, including young people, as "assets with wisdom and knowledge, not as deficient and needing outside help." Goswami is director of the Write to Change Foundation and director emerita of Middlebury Bread Loaf NextGen Network. "We're a state rich in creativity and ingenuity—and this initiative showcases some of that in our smallest communities" said SCAC Executive Director David Platts. "We are grateful to USDA-Rural Development for first believing in and funding this initiative in 2015. We've built a case for creative placemaking—the strategic use of arts and culture to address community issues—and this platform is being showcased nationally. The arts commission has also garnered more support for this approach from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation as well as funding from the South Carolina General Assembly. The Art of Community: Rural SC initiative is part of the Community Arts Development program of the arts commission and is one of three program areas that also include artist services and arts education. “Through this program, we continue to strive to meet our mission-‘to develop a thriving arts environment’ for the people and places in our South Carolina,” said Board of Commissioners Chair Dee Crawford of Aiken, South Carolina. “The arts are invaluable to our communities, both big and small. They are tools for growth, development and social cohesion in each and every county in our state.” Crawford also serves on the Advisory Council for Art of Community: Rural SC. The South Carolina Arts Commission is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and collaborates in its work with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and South Arts. It received funding from USDA-Rural Development to launch this program in 2015; and additional USDA-RD funding from 2017 to 2019. It also has received support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for this initiative since 2018. More information about The Art of Community: Rural SC can be found at https://www.southcarolinaarts.com/community-development/programs/art-of-community-rural-sc/, including a recently produced film called Meet the Mavens and a brochure featuring all mavens representing 14 South Carolina counties and the Catawba Indian Nation in York County.
ABOUT THE SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISSION With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state’s cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education, and economic vitality for all South Carolinians. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing grants, direct programs, staff assistance and partnerships in three key areas:
  • arts education,
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.
Headquartered in Columbia, the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696.

Arts boost quality of life, economy in Fort Lawn

Feel free to share your stories on social media, and tag the S.C. Arts Commission.

Image captured on Facebook by Laurel Posey of SCAC grants office (during non-business hours).

Time to make hay

The first weekend in June is just days away, and that means it’s time for another arts festival in South Carolina. More low-key than its larger brethren, the Ag + Art Tour (Ag and Art Tour) continues to grow and in 2018 is spread throughout 12 counties. Ag + Art Tour is a free, self-guided tour of designated farms in South Carolina featuring local artisans and farmer's markets.  During this tour you will have the opportunity to see first-hand where your food comes from, watch artists in action and purchase their works, dance to the melodies of bluegrass and folksongs, and learn more about rural life. It’s the largest free farm and art tour in the nation with more 30,000 visitors participating since it began in 2012. And it’s ready to, ahem, make hay for the next four weekends in the counties of:

  1. Chesterfield County (June 2-3)
  2. Darlington County
  3. Florence County
  4. Horry County
  5. Kershaw County
  6. Chester County (June 9-10)
  7. Lancaster County
  8. York County
  9. Fairfield County (June 16-17)
  10. Newberry County (June 23-24)
  11. Union County
  12. Spartanburg County
2018 Tour Times
  • Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Sundays 1-5 p.m.
Once again, yes, admission is free, but there will likely be a charge to purchase food, beverages and a farmer’s and/or artisan’s products. Some activities may also have a cost. Head to the Ag + Art Tour website to begin plotting the course that works for you. (And do them a solid: don’t forget to use the hashtag #agandarttour in your social media posts.)

Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour adds Union County to lineup

On June 27 - 28, the Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour will host its second regional tour introducing a fifth county -- Union County -- to the tour lineup.  Tours will be held on Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. While 2015 marks the second consecutive year for the regional tour, it serves as the fourth Ag + Art tour in the Catawba Region since launching in 2012. [caption id="attachment_20582" align="alignleft" width="250"]Ag+Art Tour Patricia Gambino Patrician Gambino of Clay Impressions demonstrates pottery making at Calvert Training Stables during a previous Ag+Art Tour of Lancaster County.[/caption] Already the largest free farm tour in the nation, the 2015 Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour will be bigger than last year, stretching across five South Carolina counties: Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, Union and York. Adding Union County farms and artisans to this year’s event will offer more than 50 farm sites for visitors to enjoy. The Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour is a self-guided tour and features local artisans and farms throughout the Catawba Region. The tour gives visitors the opportunity to see where their food comes from, interact with artists, purchase their work, enjoy live entertainment, and learn about rural life. “The tour has received great feedback and most recently received the County Activities of Excellence (CAE) Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation," says Ben Boyles, co-chair of the Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour.  "Gov. Nikki Haley also encourages all South Carolinians to learn more about our heritage and history through this event and other community events.” Last year, Gov. Haley proclaimed the week of the tour as the Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour week. A few sites to see along the tour include Benford Brewing Company (Lancaster County), Catawba Cultural Preservation Center (York County), Elder Farms Family Homestead (Fairfield County), Fishing Creek Creamery (Chester County), Native American Studies Center and Garden (Lancaster County), Three Horse Milling Company (Union County), Rock Ridge Farm (York County), Royal Greens (Fairfield County), Simple Times Farm (Union County), and The Powell Farm (Chester County). Each county will host a kickoff event to introduce the featured farm sites and artisans in their communities. Kickoff events include a range of activities such as barbeque feasts, concerts, farmers markets and cooking demonstrations by local chefs using local fresh produce. County kickoff events are scheduled as follows:

  • 2015 Chester County Ag + Art Tour Kickoff on June 23, 6 – 8 p.m. in downtown Chester at the Market Building (116 Columbia St., Chester)
  • 2015 Fairfield County Ag + Art Tour Kickoff on June 25, 6 – 8:30 p.m. at the Mission Ridge Training and Golf Retreat in Winnsboro (601 S. Congress St., Winnsboro)
  • 2015 Lancaster County Ag + Art Tour Kickoff on June 26, 7 – 11:30 p.m. at the Historic Lancaster County Courthouse (104 N. Main St., Lancaster)
  • 2015 Union County Ag + Art Tour Kickoff on June 19, 6 – 9 p.m. in the 116th block of Main St. in Union near the Union County Arts Council
  • 2015 York County Ag + Art Tour Kickoff on June 11, 5 – 8 p.m. during the Old Town Farmers Market in Rock Hill (115 Caldwell St., Rock Hill)
Catawba Regional Ag +Art Tour About the Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour The first Ag + Art Tour started in 2012 in York County as a way to merge agriculture and art. York County hosted a total of 3,000 visitors in 2012. The tour expanded to include Lancaster County in 2013 with 6,000 total visitors, and added its third and fourth counties to include Chester and Fairfield in 2014 with a total of 8,000 attendees for the entire tour. The tour is coordinated by a regional leadership team and county-level planning teams that are coordinated by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service and the Olde English District Tourism Commission. Partner organizations include economic development, chamber of commerce, tourism bureau, farm and artisan organizations, education and extension office, arts councils and community volunteers. For more information on the 2015 Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour, contact Ben Boyles at 803-981-3021 or visit www.AgandArtTour.com for details. Image above: Dianne Mahaffee's Fine Art & Clay Studio in Lancaster County will demonstrate pottery and painting and host a clay turtle workshop for children. Via: Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour

Ag + Art Tour features artists and farms in four S.C. counties

ag + art greenhouseThe Catawba Regional Ag + Art Tour is a free, self-guided tour of South Carolina's Catawba region farms featuring local artisans and farmer's markets. Visitors can see first-hand where their food comes from, watch artists in action and purchase their works, dance to the melodies of bluegrass and folk songs, and learn more about rural life. This year's event takes place June 21-22 in York, Lancaster, Fairfield and Chester counties, and according to event organizers, is the largest free farm tour in the nation. The kick-off event takes place June 3 at 2 p.m. at the Gateway in Richburg, S.C., and features more than 20 farmers and artisans participating in the tour. State officials scheduled to speak during the kick-off include Hugh Weathers, commissioner of agriculture; Duane Parrish, director of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism; Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission; and George Patrick, deputy secretary for the South Carolina Department of Commerce. A list of participating farms and artisans and tips for planning your tour are available on the Ag + Art Tour website. Founded in York County in 2012, the Ag + Art Tour expanded into Lancaster County in 2013 with Chester and Fairfield counties joining in for 2014. More than 8,900 visitors participated in the Ag + Art Tours in 2012 and 2013. Via: Ag + Art Tour  

City of Lancaster awarded $50,000 grant for arts feasibility study

According to the Lancaster News, the city of Lancaster will receive a $50,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of developing an arts incubator.

The city of Lancaster is getting several thousands of dollars to see if the area can support what’s being called an arts business incubator. At its Aug. 13 meeting, City Council voted unanimously to accept a $50,000 Rural Business Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The money is going toward a feasibility study regarding the incubator. Such a facility would provide artists and artisans throughout the region a place to create their goods. Food entrepreneurs would be able to use the site to produce and distribute their goods, as well. The city had applied for a $75,000 grant for the study. “It’s only going to be $50,000, but we’ll take it,” Teresa Meeks, the city’s support services director, said of the amount awarded. “We’re happy with that.” If created, the incubator would target municipalities and communities in Chester, Fairfield and Lancaster counties. A timeline projection calls for the project to go out for bids in late 2013, with work being completed in 2014. “The increased income and availability of local products would encourage more artists and craftspeople to stay in the region and to become economically viable small businesses,” city staff wrote in the grant application. “Because availability of local products is a top tourism interest, the region would gain from increased tourism as well.”
Via: The Lancaster News