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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.

Traveling Gullah Geechee art exhibit to debut in Hampton

The Hampton County Arts Council announced that the Stanley Arts Building will be the first venue to exhibit the private art collection of Gullah native Victoria A. Smalls. A formal gala will mark the opening of this prestigious exhibit, which will then run through the month of February. The public is invited to come enjoy art featuring notable and emerging artists, entertainment, silent auction and authentic Gullah cuisine at the 7 p.m. Grand Opening Gala on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at the Stanley Arts Building in Hampton. Read more about the art collection from the The Charleston Chronicle here. Smalls is connected to the S.C. Arts Commission through its program the Art of Community: Rural SC, which walks residents of rural communities through reimagining their communities through an arts and culture lens and use those to address long-standing problems. In the process, fresh leaders are identified as new voices bring their own energies to the table and foster greater community involvement.  

Rural creatives: network on July 25

Network, celebrate, and catch the creative spirit


After a year of creating new connections and networks, CREATE: Rural SC wants you to join us and continue its creative exploration.  Creatives, artists, entrepreneurs, makers, tradition-bearers, mavens, advisors, friends and partners: you are especially invited to be part of this conversation and celebration. On Thursday, July 25, we’ll ask what matters to artists working deeply in communities to make positive change and what matters to communities that host visiting artists.   As we share and network, we’ll learn more about the community-based work of visiting artist Markus Tracy of Nevada who will lead a conversation about his South Carolina experiences in Estill and Blackville this spring and summer. Join us to learn more about staying connected with the S.C. Arts Commission and this program and come meet the agency's new director, David Platts. Light refreshments will be served and a mic provided for artists and others to share brief creative updates and insights. Artists are invited to bring a sample of their artwork for sharing and informal discussion. And perhaps a few of you will bring instruments—these meetings have a history of turning into jam sessions.

THANKS!

We are excited to join with the Estill/Hampton County Team for The Art of Community: Rural SC to support this important meeting and give special thanks to the Town of Estill for its support. In addition, financial support from USDA-Rural Development, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the South Carolina Arts Commission (which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts) is fostering new ideas, new programs and new projects for community arts development in South Carolina. Special thanks as well to associates affiliated with the Promise Zone region, which includes Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper counties.

RSVP

Check out this e-vite link and rsvp today: http://evite.me/jBdWNpf5gm
Photo by Isabella Mendes from Pexels

Submitted material

South Arts grants support “Southern Creative Places”

South Arts, a nonprofit regional arts organization serving nine Southern states, has announced $78,189 in grants to 18 communities in the region. South Arts LogoThese grants, made possible through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Georgia Council for the Arts, support the planning and execution of creative placemaking projects predominantly in small and rural communities in the South. “Creative placemaking uses arts and culture to activate and animate communities,” said Susie Surkamer, executive director of South Arts. “Creative placemaking puts arts, culture and creativity at the center of planning and problem-solving. It brings people and partners together to design creative solutions to community challenges using arts and culture as catalysts. The results can be more connected communities, enhanced quality of life, more economic opportunities, and the showcasing of a community’s most unique characteristics.” The grants, which must be matched by the recipient organization, support organizations in South Arts’ region. Organizations applied this spring and were recently notified of their status. “In our new strategic plan, South Arts has made a commitment to address the evolving needs of Southern communities through impactful arts-based programs,” continued Surkamer. “Supporting these creative placemaking efforts – from a small-business incubator for creative entrepreneurs to public art projects embracing civic pride and even a project using the arts to promote healthy eating and locally-grown produce – is an important step in serving the cross-sector needs of our region through the arts.” The Southern Creative Places grant program represents South Arts’ first programmatic offering in the arena of creative placemaking, following up on its successful co-sponsorship of the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit in March 2018 in Chattanooga. For more information about opportunities from South Arts, visit www.southarts.org.


About South Arts South Arts advances Southern vitality through the arts. The nonprofit regional arts organization was founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. South Arts’ work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective. South Arts offers an annual portfolio of activities designed to support the success of artists and arts providers in the South, address the needs of Southern communities through impactful arts-based programs, and celebrate the excellence, innovation, value and power of the arts of the South. For more information, visit www.southarts.org.
S.C. Grant Recipients
  • The Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg received a $5,000 grant to establish a cultural center in the majority Hispanic community of Arcadia.
  • The City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs received a $5,000 grant to implement the conNECKted Too project, pairing artists with tiny businesses in an isolated part of Charleston.
  • Fresh Future Farm, Inc. in Charleston received a $3,038 grant for a community mural project celebrating community history and promoting healthy, locally-grown foods.
  • The Holly Springs Center in Pickens received a $4,365 grant to present a festival of Appalachian arts on the grounds of a former school.
  • The Town of Estill received a $3,375 grant to create a mural celebrating diversity.

Ment Nelson brings pride of place to ‘Souf Cak’

It's a great day in South Carolina Souf Cak. One can easily envision that phrase appearing among Ment Nelson's tweets at some point, if it's not in the 3,100+ already tweeted. His mission statement on the social media platform is "I make it cool to be from South Carolina," so we posit that our lede is not a stretch. But don't take The Hub's word for it; the Post & Courier undoubtedly has more cachet and on Monday made the case for Nelson's innate coolness with a wonderful story you should read if you haven't already:

As an emerging artist who has gone from bagging groceries to collaborating on a New York gallery show in the span of two years, Nelson doesn't draw a line between his portraits, his hip-hop songwriting, his computerized artwork and his ebullient social-media presence. He'll use any format that gets the job done, up to and including posing for a selfie with a roost full of chickens.
Hat tip to P&C writer Paul Bowers. Artists from South Carolina are certainly germane to a Hub story, but Ment is also working on a new initiative we're going to begin talking about soon called "Create: Rural S.C." The S.C. Arts Commission will lead research on South Carolina’s creative cluster, with a deeper examination of the creative economy in the state’s rural Promise Zone (Barnwell, Bamberg, Allendale, Hampton, Jasper, Colleton Counties), a priority community of the USDA-RD (the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development). A cohort of “Next Generation” creative professionals in the Promise Zone will assist in all aspects of the development and roll-out of the plan. This program is an outgrowth of the SCAC's "The Art of Community: Rural S.C." initiative, which is active in each of the Promise Zone counties as the umbrella organization for this program and already bearing fruit in the region. Hear more from the young voices of "Create: Rural S.C." in this video. YOUNG VOICES VIDEO 5 MINUTES from Cook Productions on Vimeo.  

Tuning Up: The arts and rural health, SC flag call for art?

Good morning! "Tuning Up" is a new, morning series of posts where The Hub delivers quick-hit arts stories of interest to readers. Sometimes there will be one story, sometimes there will be several. Get in tune now, and have a masterpiece of a day. And now, in no particular order...

(Image credit: South Carolina Philharmonic/Michael Dantzler)

  • Rural health: The Art of Community: Rural S.C. was in the national spotlight yesterday for work in Walterboro, but the program extends well beyond that. In Hampton County, the focus is on merging the arts with public health to address those needs with creative initiatives. (Courtesy of the Times & Democrat.)
  • Call for art? The South Carolina State Flag does not have an official design. Nobody's looking for a redesign; some want it standardized. (Courtesy of The State.)

Estill group embracing opportunities with Art of Community: Rural SC

(Image: The Art of Community: Rural S.C. team serving the Estill community. Shown, l to r: Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Deon Martin, Maude Saunders, Loretta B. Beckett, and Vonzetta Strong. Team members not pictured: Jacqueline Hopkins and Egeria Bostick.) In Estill, South Carolina, a small group of local citizens has embraced a new opportunity to make a positive contribution to the community through involvement with the South Carolina Arts Commission. For several months, Audrey Hopkins-Williams has been leading a team of individuals to consider which issues local citizens face and how arts and culture might be incorporated to address one or more of those challenges. Last spring, when the South Carolina Arts Commission reached out about a pilot program, The Art of Community: Rural S.C., Hopkins-Williams answered the call. Today, as part of the Art of Community initiative, she and her team are celebrating the creation of a plan to add arts and culture to the Estill Nature Walking Trail and engage more citizens in use of the park. [caption id="attachment_29095" align="alignright" width="300"]Estill Park Partnering with the Parks and Recreation Division of the Town of Estill, the local team is exploring ideas to help promote a more healthy community at the 1st Street park site.[/caption] “We know that this park is an asset and that health issues are major concerns here,” she said. “We asked ourselves, ‘can we add some elements to the park that will get people here and help them become more active?’” Hopkins-Williams and her team are considering the variety of ingredients that may fit the bill—from a performance series featuring storytellers to new play equipment that encourages creativity in children. “We don’t have all the answers yet, but we are looking at what keeps people from using the park. What can change the dynamic?” To aid in the development of the arts and culture “ingredients,” the South Carolina Arts Commission made a $1,000 award to help the local team design the project and solicit additional funds. “We are also pleased to have donations from the Martin Funeral Home of Estill, the Hampton County Sheriff’s Department, Maude Saunders of Gordon Logging Company and Mt. Moriah Worship Center of Furman,” she said. “We have just begun to see how the arts make change in communities—already we are being more creative in planning this project and getting people involved in the process.” The Estill team includes Jackie Hopkins, Maude Saunders, Loretta B. Beckett, Vonzetta Strong and Egeria Bostick. While Hopkins-Williams is serving as the “maven,” or connector, for Hampton County, five additional leaders were identified to serve as team mavens in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton and Jasper counties. Since June, these leaders and their team members have participated in a series of regional meetings. “We are so happy to know more citizens of Hampton County through this project,” South Carolina Arts Commission Program Director Susan DuPlessis said. “Not only have we built new relationships in Estill, we are also building a regional network of citizens who are community builders. We are exploring ways that arts and culture can be used to engage people, to rediscover each community’s assets, and to build on those assets.” Part of the strength of the Art of Community is its connectivity both within the state and beyond. The initiative is informed by a committee of 24 advisors who hail from around the country and from South Carolina. Dr. Ann Carmichael, dean of USC Salkehatchie, and John Robert “Bob” Reeder co-chair the advisory committee. “This initiative is an example of how a state arts commission re-imagines arts and culture within the communities they serve,” said Reeder, a native of Rock Hill, S.C., and program director for Rural LISC, a national community development intermediary working in 44 states. “This effort is being recognized nationally as innovative. Its unique approach—starting with the partnership between a state arts agency and a Promise Zone—is getting well-deserved attention and building new relationships and engagement within small communities.” The Arts Commission received funding from USDA Rural to start this program in South Carolina’s rural Promise Zone in 2015. “As an official partner of the Promise Zone effort and as investors in South Carolina communities through grants, assistance and programming, we are extremely interested in challenges our communities face,” said Ken May, South Carolina Arts Commission executive director. The range of community development issues that have been discussed include health, housing, transportation, safety, environment, economic and workforce development and education. The initiative has also asked the participants to identify what makes them proud of their communities. “This begins with ‘what works,’ ‘what characteristics do you love about your town,’ and ‘what makes you feel connected.’ The best part is that we are working with the community teams—what happens is born out of local ideas and creativity. It’s exciting and inspiring to watch,” said May. Hopkins-Williams advises her local community to “stay tuned. We’re on it!” Anyone interested in becoming part of the Hampton County local team should call Audrey Hopkins-Williams at 843-943-8591.

Salkehatchie Arts hires new director

Salkehatchie Arts has announced that Susan J. Oswald, a local artist and lifelong resident of Allendale County, is the new director for Salkehatchie Arts. Her position will include management of the Salkehatchie Arts Center, a retail outlet for local artists, promoting arts in the Salkehatchie region, and assisting with Salkehatchie Stew, a storytelling initiative that promotes stories of the region through an original play each year. She comes to Salkehatchie Arts with extensive experience in management, retailing, wholesaling, marketing, and advertising. Oswald graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor of fine arts. She gained experience in retailing as the owner and operator of Country Flair, a retail business in Allendale, for 23 years.

Upon closing that business, she entered the wholesale fashion world as a multi-line manufacturer’s representative for five annual Women’s Apparel trade shows in the AmericasMart Atlanta and traveled a nine-state area as a manufacturer’s representative. During this period, she developed efficient marketing and advertising strategies to increase sales and acted as a link to provide customer service between retail stores and manufacturers.
In 2013, Oswald returned to Allendale to recapture a lifelong dream to paint. She has gallery representation in Allendale and Charleston, established an online presence and has been accepted into juried art competition/shows.
Salkehatchie Arts is a 501-c-3 nonprofit organization including Allendale, Barnwell, Bamberg, Hampton, and Colleton counties with a mission to foster cooperation between arts, economic, education, and community development groups. It supports the local artists and local economy, encourages future arts programs, helps to bring awareness to local arts resources, promotes tourism and the visability of the Salkehatchie Region, and enhances the production of arts and entertainment in the region.