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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.

The art of literacy: New park hopes to promotes education through expression

The South Carolina Arts Commission launched The Art of Community: Rural SC in May 2016 to help advance rural development through the arts, culture and creative placemaking. From the Jasper County Sun Article and photos by Liz Bloom

Jasper County ranked 45th in the state in education in 2014, with 49 percent of third-graders testing below state standards in reading. The county’s high school dropout rate of 6.8 percent from 2013-14 ranked 46th. When Jasper County Parks and Recreation Director Johnny Davis saw those stats from 2016 Kids Count South Carolina data, he felt compelled to try to raise awareness in a positive message. On Saturday, thanks to a Promise Zone grant, he – and members of the community – built a new art park for kids in downtown Ridgeland. “We were given a grant by the South Carolina Arts Commission. It was given to each county in the Promise Zone and part of the idea was that we were to try to determine an issue … to address and pick a project that would bring awareness and address that issue. We chose education, and in particular literacy, to address in our county,” said Davis. “We could use the money in the private or public sector, but they wanted us not to create something new, but go with what had been working already in the area. We chose the Morris Center downtown because it was centrally located and had some good momentum with its opening and drawing in lots of folks from the outside. We decided to do an art park. It’s in the back of the center in an area that’s not being utilized, and we thought it would be the perfect place.” Davis and his small Jasper County Arts Council embraced a simple theme – art of literacy. The idea is that literacy along with visual arts provide students invaluable ways to express themselves through words, pictures, paintings. At the grand reveal on Saturday, kids and adults cycled in and out of the green lot next to the Morris Center on Jacob Smart Boulevard in Ridgeland to paint stepping stones, help build the giant scrabble board, and create paintings and drawings to display. Davis wanted the community to be proud of something and claim ownership. The green space is just a small park, but Davis has a bigger vision to add murals to walls and even make the area a place to host outdoor movies for families. He wants the area to evolve into a regular epicenter of community and fellowship. He doesn’t see a big need for playgrounds, or fancy installations, just an area where people can feel safe and express themselves. From there he hopes to spread the pressing issue of literacy. “The best thing to do is bring awareness that there’s an issue. We do have an issue in Jasper County with illiteracy and drop-outs. With education being our focus …, we want to help provide places to go after school for kids, for them to not only express themselves through homework, but through art,” he said. “Let them be creative and grow in that way, give them a chance to work their brains and learn to express themselves in a creative way, and we’ve got to give them opportunities to do that. We’ve got to provide places for them to go and do that. “This project is not meant to solve the county’s issue, but just to bring awareness to it. Hopefully this jump-starts something bigger and better and we can start doing these things around all of the county.” The art park project intends to highlight the poor literacy rates, but also promote local art. For the murals Davis wants to paint, he’s hoping to hold a contest at RHHS for students to come up with designs and get an entire group to paint two or more of them on a building by the Morris Center. He wants kids to come to the park to paint, draw, and perform – the Scrabble board is also a stage for kids, speakers, and artists, to utilize. “There’s a bigger mission, bigger vision with this project,” said Davis. “This is kind of the jump-start.” There’s more to highlight in Jasper’s schools besides test scores, and Davis hopes to do just that.

Hardeeville Elementary participates in statewide honor choir for first time

In 1999, Patricia H. Croft with the Elementary Division of the South Carolina Music Educators Association dreamed of creating a South Carolina Elementary Honor Choir. Her vision was to promote choral singing for elementary students, raise the quality of existing elementary choral programs and provide much-needed professional development for South Carolina's elementary music teachers. Croft secured a $1,000 grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission to help finance the first choir and contracted with Henry Leck, founder and artistic director of the Indianapolis Children's Choir, to come to South Carolina for this new project. Leck made suggestions for the statewide audition that are still followed today. Croft and other teacher volunteers listened to 600 children singing "America" on the first audition tapes. Leck sent a challenging list of music to be taught, and the teachers of the first choir members began preparing the students for the weekend's rehearsals in Greenville. The first performance was held at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville to a standing-room-only audience. hardeevillechoirstudents2This year, 465 students from 95 schools auditioned for the 2014 choir and 242 were selected. The choir performed at the SCMEA's annual conference in North Charleston Feb. 6-8. Two of those students, Tre’Mari Cunningham and Isaac Taliaferro, (pictured right) presented Hardeeville Elementary School in Jasper County. From Savannahnow.com:

Jasper County elementary school students Tre’Mari Cunningham and Isaac Taliaferro were selected to participate in the South Carolina Elementary Honor Choir in Charleston. The choir performed Feb. 6-8 for a crowd of about 1,000. Cunningham, a student at Hardeeville Elementary, and Taliaferro, a student at Ridgeland Elementary, auditioned under the direction of Hardeeville music teacher Brandon Hutson. “We had an audition through the school where I listened to the fourth- and fifth-grade kids and taught them the requirements,” Hutson said. “We narrowed it down to 16, and then we had another audition and narrowed it down to six. Tre’Mari and Isaac were among the top six.” Hutson said every student had to sing the same song during the school auditions. “They were all based on the same requirements and were scored on a rubric of pitch, rhythm, tempo and consistency,” Hutson said. Taliaferro started the year out at Hardeeville Elementary when Hutson was auditioning students for the choir. The 11-year-old relocated to Ridgeland after the audition CDs were sent to the choir judges. After he was selected to be in the choir based on his audition score, his father brought him to Hardeeville each Friday. “It’s pretty awesome to see that two of our kids made it out of so many that auditioned in the state,” Hutson said. “That’s impressive. They only missed one point.” The school-wide auditions included all of the fourth- and fifth-graders who are required to take music as part of their curriculum. This is the first year the school has participated in the statewide honor choir. Hutson attended the S.C. Music Educators Conference last year and saw the choir perform. “When I saw them perform, I knew our kids had to do that because it was such as mass of students that were able to represent their school and district,” Hutson said. “We have some great talent in Hardeeville and I knew we had to get our kids to audition.” Of the 465 students who auditioned, Taliaferro and Cunningham were among 240 who scored high enough to make the honor choir. Cunningham said participating in the choir event in Charleston was a fun and exciting experience. “We rehearsed for nine hours,” Cunningham said. “We went for three days, from Thursday to Saturday. Rehearsal didn’t seem that long, though, because it was fun.” Guest clinician Cristi Cary Miller came from Putnam City, Okla., to assist and teach the students. “I liked what she (Miller) did; it was fun,” Cunningham said. “She was teaching us things like how to move your mouth, going high and low and used different things that were fun to make us do it. When we were practicing we used games. … It was hard work, though. Sometimes the teacher would be fun with it, but then she’d stop being fun and start teaching. She would never yell but she would be serious, because she’s a teacher.” Cunningham and Taliaferro were friends before participating in the choir, but it has brought them closer together. “Me and Tre’Mari were already friends before the event,” Taliaferro said. “But to find out before we were going to be in the same thing was shocking and we knew the experience was going to be fun.” According to Taliaferro’s grandparents, who attended the event, Cunningham’s uncle and Taliaferro’s first cousin sang together in school. Cunningham wants to be a singer when he grows up and hopes to play the piano. Taliaferro hopes to sing more. “We saw a lot of people that we knew at the event,” Taliaferro said. “It was more boys than girls. The way it affected me was that I think it helped me with being on stage performing in front of a lot of people so when you grow up you won’t be scared or anything.” Joseph Taliaferro, Isaac’s grandfather, commented on his experience in the audience. “The instructor was excellent and the crowd was very obedient,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience for these two young kids and for us, too.” Tre’Mari and Isaac will not be eligible for the statewide choir again next year because they will be moving up to middle school. There is currently no statewide honor choir for middle school students, but Hutson and others hope that will change.
Via: S.C. Music Educators Association (choir history), Savannahnow.com

Gullah Geechee artists and residents invited to community meetings

Gullah Geechee artists, residents and organization representatives are invited to a series of networking meetings hosted by the South Carolina Arts Commission and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. The goals of the meetings are to identify Gullah Geechee residents who practice or represent one or more of the expressions outlined in the Corridor’s management plan (music, arts, handicrafts, foodways, spirituality, language, education and economic development) and to gather ideas for developing awareness of the Gullah Geechee culture. The Arts Commission and the Corridor are partnering to create networks and resource opportunities.

To RSVP for either meeting, email sbauer@arts.sc.gov or call (803) 734-8687. Be sure to indicate which meeting you will attend: Each meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 8 p.m.

The first meeting, held in Mt. Pleasant on Oct. 29, attracted a variety of community members.

“Our ultimate goal is to make new relationships that bring new resources to people and create interest in the Corridor – both in the state and beyond,” said Ken May, S.C. Arts Commission executive director. “We were pleased to have such a good turnout for the first meeting."

Those attending the meetings are encourage to share a "chatta" -- a seven-word essay describing a Gullah Geechee sentiment. Examples include: "Just the way we live. Embrace it!" and "Gullah Geechee wisdom. Listen to our ancestors." For additional information about the partnership, contact Arts Participation Program Director Susan DuPlessis, sduplessis@arts.sc.gov or (803) 734-8693. About the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was designated a national heritage area by Congress on Oct. 12, 2006. The Corridor was created to recognize contributions made to American culture and history by African Americans known as Gullah Geechee, who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida; to assist organizations in the four states in interpreting and preserving Gullah Geechee folklore, arts, crafts, and music; and to assist in identifying and preserving Gullah Geechee sites, historical data and artifacts for the benefit and education of the public. South Carolina counties in the Gullah Geechee Corridor are Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Jasper, Marion and Williamsburg. For more information, visit www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org.

Gullah Geechee residents invited to meetings celebrating culture

The South Carolina Arts Commission is pleased to partner with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission to help connect Gullah Geechee artists, residents and organizations to resources and promote the state’s Gullah Geechee culture.

“Our goal is to identify Gullah Geechee residents who practice or represent one or more of the expressions outlined in the Corridor’s management plan,” said Ken May, S.C. Arts Commission executive director. “Those areas include music, arts, handicrafts, foodways, spirituality, language, education and economic development. We want to build relationships with Gullah Geechee artists and those who advocate for the preservation of Gullah Geechee culture and traditions. Our ultimate goal is to make new relationships that bring new resources to people and create interest in the Corridor – both in the state and beyond.” Gullah Geechee artists, residents and organization representatives are invited to learn more during a series of networking meetings that will be hosted by both the S.C. Arts Commission and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission:
  • Oct. 29, Mt. Pleasant Waterworks Community Room, 1619 Rifle Range Road, Mt. Pleasant
  • Nov. 19,  The Frissell House at Penn Center, St. Helena Island, Beaufort County
  • Nov. 21, Georgetown County Library Auditorium, 405 Cleland St., Georgetown
Each meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 8 p.m. “The Gullah Geechee Corridor’s partnership with the South Carolina Arts Commission hopefully will develop a template for use with other arts commissions throughout the Corridor,” said Ronald Daise, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission Chairman. “We’re excited that the initial meeting is being held during Gullah Geechee Awareness Month, and we encourage Gullah Geechee artists in each community to participate. All ideas that are expressed will help to develop awareness of authentic representation of Gullah Geechee culture.” Those attending the meetings are encourage to share a "chatta" -- a seven-word essay describing a Gullah Geechee sentiment. Examples include: "Just the way we live. Embrace it!" and "Gullah Geechee wisdom. Listen to our ancestors." View the Oct. 29 mtg invitation. To RSVP for this meeting, email deona@dejogroup.com or call (843) 793-8684. For additional information about the partnership and future meetings, contact Arts Participation Program Director Susan DuPlessis, sduplessis@arts.sc.gov or (803) 734-8693. About the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was designated a national heritage area by Congress on Oct. 12, 2006. The Corridor was created to recognize contributions made to American culture and history by African Americans known as Gullah Geechee, who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida; to assist organizations in the four states in interpreting and preserving Gullah Geechee folklore, arts, crafts, and music; and to assist in identifying and preserving Gullah Geechee sites, historical data and artifacts for the benefit and education of the public. South Carolina counties in the Gullah Geechee Corridor are Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Jasper, Marion and Williamsburg. For more information, visit www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org.