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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.

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.

Can The Arts Help Save Rural America?

The South Carolina Arts Commission has launched The Art of Community: Rural SC to re-imagine place in six rural counties through an arts and culture lens. South Carolina native Bob Reeder, program director of Rural LISC and interviewed for this article, is co-chairman of the Art of Community advisory council. From The Huffington Post Article by Teresa Wiltz, photo by Tony Demin

IOWA CITY, Iowa Ten years ago, Sarah Calhoun became a 21st century pioneer, staking a claim in a town far from her Connecticut roots: White Sulphur Springs, Montana, population 939, located in what was then the poorest county in the nation. The logging industry had dried up in the mountain town, but Calhoun saw potential. So she launched Red Ants Pants, manufacturing work wear for women. She started an online business and opened a brick and mortar store, and then a music festival with big-name talent like Lyle Lovett and Wynonna Judd. The festival brought thousands of music fans to White Sulphur Springs and generated money to help finance rural enterprises. Today, the once ramshackle downtown has been revitalized as other businesses have popped up. Which is why Calhoun was at a conference in Iowa City last week, standing before a crowd of other rural denizens, business leaders, artists and policymakers, preaching about the role the arts can play in bringing timeworn towns back to life. “I want to make rural America sexy again,” Calhoun said. And the arts, she said, are a way to help do just that. As post-recession, rural America continues to struggle, some rural leaders, using private and public funding, are experimenting with the arts as a tool to fuel economic and community development like they did for White Sulfur Springs. The National Endowment for the Arts is helping by giving $125,000 in seed money to fund a “Next Generation” initiative to help build arts hubs in rural America. The idea is to connect artists, arts groups, civic leaders and philanthropists and encourage them to create sustainable cultural scenes in rural communities to help spur economic development and entice new, young residents. Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota participated this year. Other states seek to join next year. “You need arts in rural America so that the next generation wants to come there and live,” said Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, a public policy institute located at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
“If you do not build vibrant, inclusive, diverse places for young people, they’re not going to raise their families there. They’re simply not. And those communities will wither away,” Fluharty said. Around the nation, arts are helping a handful of rural communities make a go of it. Marfa, a remote desert town in Texas with a population of 1,765, has become an international arts mecca among fashionistas. Every summer for the last 45 years, 12,000 people swarm Winfield, Kansas, pitching their tents at the town’s annual bluegrass music festival and temporarily doubling the city’s population. Business leaders and city administrators say it’s almost impossible to pin a dollar figure on the amount of revenue arts and entertainment can bring to a rural community. In 2013, arts and cultural production contributed $704 billion to the U.S. economy and supported 4.7 million jobs. Community leaders say the arts can foster community pride and create jobs, even on a modest scale. To be successful, they say, a rural community must figure out what makes it unique — a gorgeous natural landscape that can serve as the backdrop for a writers’ retreat, an old opera house, or a tradition of local storytelling — and capitalize on that. “People say, ‘I’m going to Winfield.’ They don’t say, ‘I’m going to the Walnut Valley Festival.’ The festival is giving us this name recognition. You could never pay for that type of recognition,” said Warren Porter, Winfield’s city manager. Tourists flock to Lanesboro, Minnesota, population 754, a historic town known for its Victorian architecture and scenic river bikeway, to take in theater, art galleries, museums, film festivals and live music. Smithsonian magazine named it one of its “20 Best Small Towns to Visit.” (Minnesota has an arts and heritage fund paid for with revenue from state sales taxes.) There, the entire town was declared an arts campus two years ago. And with $1.3 million in local, state and federal funding, the town has been renovating facilities, helping artists relocate there and developing an artist residency center, said John Davis, executive director of Lanesboro Arts, a coordinating organization. In the meantime, 10 businesses have opened in town. Owensboro, a small city in western Kentucky located on the Ohio River, has invested $260 million of public and private money to revamp its downtown riverfront and convention center and build a new building for its International Bluegrass Music Museum. The city was known for its museum, which opened in 1991 and “set the tone for creating a brand for arts and culture,” said Joe Berry, vice president of entrepreneurship for the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. The town also has a symphony and a pre-professional ballet company. “We’ve watched our state government send money to everywhere but Owensboro,” Berry said. “We decided we’re not going to wait for our state government to help us. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to do it ourselves.” Remaking Small Town America At the “Next Generation” summit in Iowa City, artists and policy wonks from 35 states crammed in conference rooms to talk strategy, breaking every now and then to take in a performance from a storyteller or folk singer. They toss around the term “creative placemaking,” an earnest shorthand for building economically viable arts hubs. The bit of jargon belies the urgency that many rural communities face, said Bob Reeder, program director of Rural LISC (the rural component of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works with rural communities to stimulate economic development. In nearly half of the country’s rural counties, more people have moved out than have moved in during every decade since the 1950s. Many rural communities are blighted, with vacant buildings and crumbling infrastructure. Rural unemployment has eased up since the recession, but creating jobs remains a challenge. “There are many rural communities that are threatened with becoming a ghost town,” Reeder said. “Can the arts save rural America? I would never call it a panacea, but it’s another strategy that we have in our toolkit.” Metropolitan areas receive community development block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which give them the flexibility to do long-term strategic planning. In contrast, rural communities have to compete for funding. They can apply for a federal HUD grant. And they receive competitive grants from their governor’s office, which are typically meted out every few years. By the time that funding comes around, it usually goes to obtaining, say, a new fire truck, rather than creating an arts scene. “That’s a massive disadvantage to community development,” Fluharty said. Escaping the Big City Zachary Mannheimer, a former New Yorker who moved to Iowa nine years ago, travels his adopted state consulting with small towns on how to convert their abandoned hospitals and hotels into multiuse facilities that incorporate rental housing for young professionals, restaurants and community arts centers. The idea is to make a town attractive to young people, said Mannheimer of the Iowa Business Growth Company, a for-profit economic development group that uses federal and state loans and tax credits to fund small business startups in towns across the state. Increasingly, Mannheimer said, young creative types are being forced out of big cities and are looking for less expensive places to live. And many people eventually tire of metropolis living and seek a less hectic existence. A recent study by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship found that half of the young people from rural communities said that they would love to stay in their hometowns if there were real career opportunities available for them. That means small town America needs to prepare to welcome them back. “Towns have to be prepared for 30 years from now. It’s all about figuring out what does your town have that no other town on the planet has,” Mannheimer said. Rural communities should think small in starting to revitalize themselves, said Reeder of Rural LISC. Trying to woo back manufacturing in today’s service-driven economy is not realistic, he said. All too often, big corporations swoop into a rural community but don’t end up hiring many locals. And they rarely stick around, he said, leaving carcasses of abandoned industrial parks. “Don’t be trying to get a Wal-Mart,” Reeder said. For every dollar spent in these stores, 90 cents goes outside the community, he said. “For every dollar spent in a local food mart, just the opposite happens.” ‘Capital of Quirkiness’ Sometimes becoming a tourist mecca has its downside, especially if a town doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the boom. In Marfa, for example, there’s no room to grow, said James Mustard, the city administrator. The town is landlocked, bordered by ranches that have been owned by a handful of families for years. In the 1970s, the artist Donald Judd left New York for Marfa. He bought a chunk of land, and with foundation money, populated Marfa with all kinds of art installations. CBS’s “60 Minutes” dubbed the town “the capital of quirkiness.” Over the years, hipsters from New York and Los Angeles gobbled up the housing stock to use as second homes. As a result, appraised housing values skyrocketed, and some locals complained about a jump in their property taxes. Part-timers rented out their homes on Airbnb. Affordable housing shrank. “We have few vacant lots,” Mustard said. “You can’t build a subdivision. You can’t build 20 new houses.” But as Calhoun of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs sees it, with careful planning, a community can take advantage of tourism dollars. The proceeds from the annual music fest go to a foundation that funds leadership programs for women, and provides grants to improve rural communities and support family farms and ranches. Her county is no longer the poorest in the nation. White Sulphur Springs has a new Main Street, sporting goods store, brewery and bakery — and new sidewalks and streetlights. It soon will have a new school and library. But Calhoun is not interested in seeing White Sulphur Springs become a boom town. There’s a reason why she moved to the middle of nowhere. “Getting bigger isn’t the solution. Getting better is. If you design it for the tourists, you’re making a mistake,” said Calhoun, who represented Montana last year at the White House’s Small Business Leadership Summit. “Design it for your community. Then the others will come.” Image: Hayes Carll performing at the 2016 Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Some small towns are looking to the arts as a way of attracting money and people.

South Carolina Arts Commission launches The Art of Community: Rural SC

As part of its work with the South Carolina Promise Zone, the South Carolina Arts Commission has launched a new initiative, The Art of Community: Rural S.C. This pilot project advances the Arts Commission’s commitment to rural development through the arts, culture and creative placemaking and is supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. The initiative began in May with the creation of small community teams that will gather July 26 to reimagine their communities through an arts and culture lens.  Each team will then build small demonstration projects to grapple with a current community development issue. These projects will focus on how the arts can address local issues that may include economic, community or workforce development, healthcare, education, public safety, housing or capital. The Arts Commission will provide small grants to assist with these projects. The Art of Community: Rural SC counties“The Arts Commission is proud to partner with the Promise Zone as it moves its strategic plan forward,” said Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, one of 40 partners and supporters in a six-county Lowcountry effort to envision new possibilities and create a foundation for more economic vibrancy. The Promise Zone federal designation was awarded last year and provides a new way for people in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties to benefit from grants administered by 12 federal agencies through more than 30 programs. Within this overall effort, the South Carolina Arts Commission has developed a new approach to its work in this region. The six counties make up the service area of Susan DuPlessis, Arts Commission program director and arts coordinator for that region for the last nine years. “Through this initiative, we have created a new framework for building local connections, community engagement and capacity,” DuPlessis said. “It was born out of our participation in the Promise Zone’s strategic planning process in the fall of 2015. In all of the sessions, I heard how arts and culture were important, whether we were talking about healthcare or workforce development. The arts were clearly identified as key to community pride, attachment and new possibilities.” [caption id="attachment_26750" align="alignright" width="300"]Art of Community: Rural SC mavens Left to right: Gary Brightwell, Susan DuPlessis, Evelyn Coker, Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Johnny Davis, Dr. Yvette McDaniel, Lottie Lewis[/caption] The Art of Community: Rural S.C. is about engagement at all levels—from local and regional to state and national.  Three sets of individuals representing these levels are integral to the goal of working locally to explore what makes communities places people want to live, work and play. The three groups are “mavens” (community connectors), local teams and advisors. Six mavens have agreed to work closely with the Arts Commission to launch, drive and sustain this new approach.  Mavens and the communities they represent are Lottie Lewis, Allendale; Dr. Yvette McDaniel, Denmark (Bamberg County); Evelyn Coker, Blackville (Barnwell County); Gary Brightwell, Walterboro (Colleton County); Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Estill (Hampton County); and Johnny Davis, Jasper County.  The mavens will lead their local teams in a series of regional meetings for cross-county learning and community building through creative placemaking. The Arts Commission has also partnered with Kentucky’s rural Promise Zone to create a cross-cultural exchange between the two states. South Carolina’s mavens will meet June 16-18 with arts, economic and community leaders in Hazard and Whitesburg, Kentucky.  “We expect to share about our communities while learning the steps Kentucky’s leaders have taken to use arts and culture in advancing rural communities,” DuPlessis said. Kentucky and South Carolina are home to the only rural Promise Zone regions in the country. Twenty-three national and state leaders representing expansive thinking in the world of arts, culture and community development have agreed to champion this effort as members of an Advisory Council. The council is co-chaired by two native South Carolinians, Union native Dr. Ann Carmichael, dean of USC Salkehatchie, and Bob Reeder, program director for Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) and a Rock Hill native. “Having these accomplished individuals involved—one a leader in higher education, the other a leader in community development for rural communities—provides new perspectives,” said May. “We are proud to spearhead this effort and look forward to supporting the local teams, learning from them and connecting them to more resources to benefit their communities and the Promise Zone region." Advisory Council members: Dr. Ann Carmichael, Co-Chair, USC-Salkehatchie, South Carolina J. Robert “Bob” Reeder, Co-Chair, Rural LISC, Washington, D.C. Savannah Barrett, Art of the Rural, Kentucky Javier Torres, ArtPlace America, New York Leonardo Vazquez, AICP, The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, NJ Dr. J. Herman Blake, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission Kerri Forrest, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation,Lowcountry SC and Chicago Susie Surkamer, SouthArts, Hilton Head and Atlanta Doug Peach, University of Indiana, Ph.D. graduate student, Indiana David Smalls, Community Consultant, Walterboro/Columbia Carolyn Lackey, Charleston Association of Grant Professionals, Charleston Warren Chavous, USC Salkehatchie Leadership, Allendale/Promise Zone Andy Brack, Better South, Charleston & Promise Zone Liaison Jane Przybysz, McKissick Museum at University of South Carolina Brandolyn Pinkston, (Ret.) Consumer Affairs Director, Savannah and Columbia Bernie Mazyck, S.C. Association for Community Economic Development Sara Johnson, Municipal Association of South Carolina Michelle Knight, Lowcountry Council of Governments Danny Black, SouthernCarolina Alliance, SC Promise Zone Dee Crawford, S.C. Arts Commission Board, McDonald’s Franchisee, Aiken Sara June Goldstein, S.C. Arts Commission, Statewide Partnerships Ken May, S.C. Arts Commission, Executive Director Advisory Council co-chairs Dr. Ann CarmichaelDr. Ann C. Carmichael is the dean of the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie. Prior to her appointment in 2000, Dr. Carmichael served for nine years as director of the Salkehatchie Walterboro Campus and coordinator of development, overseeing the institution’s multimillion dollar capital campaign. She earned her Ph.D. in counseling from USC and a Master’s in Student Personnel Services from Clemson University.  Prior to joining USC Salkehatchie in 1991, she served as associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of students at Charleston Southern University and dean of students at Judson College in Marion, Ala. Dr. Carmichael was instrumental in securing the Promise Zone designation for the six-county region, a designation that was awarded only to one rural community. Dr. Carmichael is a graduate of the Diversity Leadership Institute at Furman University and currently serves as chair-elect of the Colleton Walterboro Chamber of Commerce, the SouthernCarolina Regional Economic Development Alliance Board of Directors, and as chairman of the Savannah River Site Redevelopment Authority Board. Bob ReederJ. Robert ‘Bob’ Reeder serves as a program director and field program manager for Rural LISC (the rural component of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation). There he directs sustainable rural community development activities covering 72 rural, community-based organizations located in 43 states and over 1,400 counties. His areas of expertise include community engagement, board of director development and training, land retention strategies in rural areas and other issues impacting land tenure, financial underwriting, project feasibility analysis, grant and loan assistance, and organizational capacity building. Reeder has built a 30-year career devoted to social and economic justice, housing and comprehensive community development, particularly in incorporating arts and cultural-based strategies (creative placemaking) in the revival of distressed rural communities, public policy, and legal and administrative advocacy. A native of Rock Hill, S.C., he earned a BA in Government from Wofford College and his JD from Vanderbilt University School of Law.