A look ahead at the arts in 2016 in SC

Arts Commission director talks issues in coming year

From The State

Article by Erin Shaw

Ken MayKen May, the executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, is dedicated to building a thriving arts environment for the benefit of all South Carolinians.

The organization focuses mainly on artist development, arts education and community arts development. Here, May discusses what he expects to happen with the arts in South Carolina in the upcoming year.

“I think 2016 is going to be an interesting, busy year,” he said. “There are several things that have been put into motion over the last several years that I think are going to have an impact.”

POSITIVES: I’ve never before seen the broad recognition of the importance of arts education that I see now. I think everybody realizes this is an issue that we need to make progress on. It’s a good time for education and a good time for arts education. Arts education has always been a big issue for us. Our mission is to make it possible for all citizens to benefit from the arts.

ON TASK: Last year we put together an arts education task force to assess the progress we’ve made so far and to identify next steps. One of the things we found – which was not surprising, but still sobering – was that quality arts education is happening in places with supplemental funding. Students in high poverty schools are therefore much less likely to have access to the arts. We really need to find new approaches to reach those high poverty areas.

Last year, we requested and got $1 million from the Legislature specifically for arts education. We’re using that to really get going on the recommendations from the task force.

ABBEVILLE LAWSUIT: The state Supreme Court decided the Abbeville school equity lawsuit (Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina) a year ago and ruled that the state had failed to provide a minimally adequate education for students in the state’s poor, rural districts.

The House Education Task Force built into its recommendation a piece that relates to arts education. It includes more school day arts offerings and supporting after-school and summer programs that would be arts-related.

It’s really exciting that they did that, and it will make 2016’s legislative session interesting to watch to see what actually gets done.

MORE CULTURAL DISTRICTS: We’re seeing the rise of cultural districts in towns and cities across the state. There’s really a growing recognition among civic leaders that the arts are powerful drivers in revitalizing urban neighborhoods. What’s happened in the Vista and downtown Greenville are examples. A couple years ago, we got authority to officially designate cultural districts. We rolled out the program last year and to date we have five designations, with several more in the queue. And I think we’ll see that as a continuing trend.

TRANSITIONS: Many arts leaders are nearing retirement, so we will be seeing leaders leaving their posts and seeking new ones to take their place. For example, Betty Plumb, the executive director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance and a key player in arts advocacy for the last 27 years, will be stepping down next fall.

As for new hires, the Arts Commission is getting a new staff member to focus on arts education. We haven’t had any staffing in that area since 2010. We also jointly hired a new coordinator for folk and traditional arts with McKissick Museum. So, we’re excited about those incoming transitions.

WISH LIST: By this time in 2016, it would be exciting if the Legislature took the first steps on the recommendations in the Abbeville case and if we were in the mix helping get started on those solutions.

I would like to see several more cities with cultural districts and have us working with those cities collaboratively.

I would like to see artists working together in small clusters at the community level to really begin to tackle their careers and figure out their strategies.

And I hope to see our new staffers on board and doing great new stuff.