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College of Charleston’s Valerie Morris announces retirement

Long-time, accomplished arts dean exiting the stage


For 22 years Valerie Morris, dean of the College of Charleston School of the Arts, has sat in the audience at music and dance performances, theater productions and art lectures and presentations.

She has served as a member of various boards and joined committees to raise funds. A perennial champion of the arts, Morris has always been there, standing off stage, determinedly cheering. And it’s an essential role in a city where the arts often take center stage. “I have known Dean Morris for years as a fellow Rotarian and through her leadership in Charleston’s thriving arts community,” says Charleston Mayor John T. Tecklenburg. “Simply put, she’s been amazing in her impact on the arts scene here in Charleston, along with her personal joie de vivre!”
Morris’s “joie de vivre” or enthusiasm for the arts began at a young age. Growing up in Beverly, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, she first became interested in the arts at the age of six after an aunt took her to see the movie Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye. Then she became very active in the local children’s theater and “used every excuse to spend backstage” at the North Shore Music Theatre, the largest operating regional theater in New England. “I guess from the age of 6, I always felt pushed towards the arts,” Morris said, noting that in high school her focus shifted to public speaking and promoting the arts, which won her an award for marketing her high school’s productions. “First, I wanted to perform, then I realized I wanted to be around artists of all types, and to help them achieve their goals.” And that first meant achieving her goals. Morris received her bachelor’s degree in speech arts from American University and a master in speech with a theatre administration emphasis from the University of Michigan. Her career in the arts really picked up when she joined the faculty of American University’s Department of Performing Arts, where she became the founding director of that institution’s Arts Management program. According to Karen Chandler, associate professor of arts management at the College, Morris forged a path for women in the field. “When I entered the field in the early ’80s, Valerie was one of a handful of women arts leaders who had founded and very successfully developed a program in arts management (at American University),” says Chandler, who also worked alongside Morris at American University.
Morris came to the College as dean of the School of the Arts in the fall of 1998. Since then, she has helped establish the undergraduate Arts Management Program and the Graduate Certificate in Arts and Cultural Management, as well as the Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program. Under Morris’s leadership, the School of the Arts has grown and flourished, including earning the South Carolina Governor’s Award for the Arts, the state’s highest award in the arts. Other highlights of Morris’ tenure include helping to launch the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts in January 2010. The $27.2 million dollar, 70,000-square-foot building is a testament to the growth of the school from a small fine arts department into a comprehensive arts school with seven academic departments and programs. Morris also expanded the School of the Arts Council and, in 2003, established the Friends of the School of the Arts, a membership program that funds scholarships, student travel for competitions and productions, visiting artists, faculty research and development, and international recruitment efforts. And Morris’s hard work has garnered the attention and support of some of CofC’s most esteemed arts alumni, including acclaimed painter Brian Rutenberg (Class of 1987). “To excel as an artist, one needs to be organized, possess a clear-eyed vision and have a great sense of humor. These same qualities apply to leading an entire art school,” says Rutenberg. “Valerie has all of these attributes, plus she is a skillful communicator. Her creation is the world-class reputation that the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston enjoys today. We are all the beneficiaries of her effort.”
As for what comes next, Morris says her future will always include the arts as well as a focus on family. “I’m keeping active on local, regional and national boards,” she says. “Eventually, my husband and I plan to spend considerable time on the West Coast, where my children and grandchildren live.” To honor Morris’s 22 years of service to the College and the School of the Arts, longtime College of Charleston advocates, donors and volunteers Jean and Tap Johnson have established a scholarship in her name. It’s a fitting honor for someone who has done so much for CofC. “Valerie has been a consummate mentor, advisor and colleague over the past 25 years. But more importantly, she is a trusted supporter and dear friend,” says Chandler. “She deserves to do whatever she wants now, feeling satisfied about the outstanding contributions she’s made to the arts infrastructure in so many places – and especially here at CofC.”

Jason Rapp

Tuning Up: Arts people news + down to the wire

Good morning!  "Tuning Up" is a morning post series where The Hub delivers curated, 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...


South Arts names two from S.C. to Emerging Leaders of Color program

The Hub helped promote South Arts' Emerging Leaders of Color opportunity once, twice, or three times, so it's only right that we let you know how it all shook out. Two leaders from South Carolina were named to the cohort: Melanie Colclough of Sumter (executive director of Patriot Hall/Sumter County Cultural Center) and Jemimah Ekeh of Columbia (freelance designer + administrator with One Columbia for Arts & Culture). There is more about the program and see who was accepted from other states right here.

State's arts community loses two beacons

We pause to note with sadness the passing of two members of South Carolina's tight-knit arts community:

It's down to the wire

No. Not that. This is your two-weeks' two-day notice that nomination time is coming to a close for the South Carolina Governor's Awards for the Arts and the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. Nominations for both are due by 11:59 p.m. ET THIS FRIDAY, Nov. 6.

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2020 College of Charleston theatre grad wins national award. Again.

Noah Ezell headshot Noah Ezell.

Recent College of Charleston alumnus Noah Ezell (2020) had completely forgotten about the award.

He’d entered his submission way back in January and, to be fair, there have been some major distractions since then. So, when he recently learned he’d won the 2020 national Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Undergraduate Theater Scholar Award, it was a welcome surprise—one the College of Charleston theatre major really needed. “This award reaffirmed for me something that felt a little more distant than it did in early March. I needed that reminder that this field is my home, that this is what I was designed to do,” Ezell said. His winning paper, “Metamodernism of the Oppressed: An Exploration of Metamodernism and Its Surfacing in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ‘An Octoroon,’” was derived from his senior thesis paper. The KCACTF is a national theater program serving as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the U.S. In order to further student activity in the discipline of scholarship, the prestigious national awards program encourages and rewards research and scholarly writing among undergraduates throughout the nation. But this isn’t Ezell’s first national KCACTF award. Last year, he received the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA)/KCACTF Student Dramaturgy Award for his work on the college’s production of Marisol by José Rivera. “It was through the LMDA/KCACTF Student Dramaturgy Award that I made a network of artistic connections, and I was able to intern at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, one of the leading new play development centers in America,” Ezell said. “From there it’s just been a sort of spiral as my networks of connections and collaborators have grown, and my love for new plays and new play dramaturgy has expanded.”
  Since graduating in May, Ezell has stayed busy with several projects, carving out a place for himself in the professional theater world, one that has all but come to a standstill since the coronavirus pandemic. “Even though things aren’t what I thought they would be, I’m getting to create art with my friends, and that’s really soul filling for me,” says Ezell, who is currently serving as a dramaturg for a friend’s new play about queer bodies and trauma as well as a script reader for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, among other things. “I’m lucky that in the midst of all this I am still able to connect theatrically in all these different ways.” Ezell hopes to have a career both in new play development theater and, later, in academia. “Ultimately I am both an artist and an academic, which is why I love dramaturgy so much. It melds those two worlds in a very beautiful way,” he said. “At the core, though, I really just want to fully support myself with my art and help make art that is socially conscious, lifts up the voices of underrepresented groups and makes a difference in the world.”

Jason Rapp

Arts Education Partnership report lauds ABC Project in S.C.

AEP report 'reflects back and projects forward'


Over 25 years ago, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts partnered with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and Council of Chief State School Officers to create the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) to ensure that all students have equitable access to an excellent arts education.​ - AEP report


A new report from AEP takes a long look at the genesis of the partnership. While it's no surprise to those involved in the work, casual readers might be surprised to know that South Carolina and a few South Carolinians at the right place at the right time figured mightily in how everything came together on a national level. In a Part 2 of the report, former SCAC Executive Director Scott Shanklin-Peterson and Dr. Terry Peterson recount work with Dick Riley in Columbia as governor and Washington as President Clinton's education secretary to get the arts included in sweeping educational reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. The South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) is extremely proud of the ongoing work of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project, a national model for integrating the arts into K-12 curriculum discussed at length in the AEP report. Together with the South Carolina Dept. of Education and the Winthrop University College of Visual and Performing Arts, the ABC Project continues serving the Palmetto State 31 years after starting and 33 years after the SCAC received a $20,000 Arts in Schools Basic Education planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to develop the it. Read the full report here.

Jason Rapp

‘Learning Why’ provides S.C. quality arts ed lessons

Arts in Basic Curriculum Project, SCETV partner for students


A collaboration between the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project (ABC) Project and SCETV is thrilled to highlight great teachers through the in-state television network's "LearningWhy." 

The partnership stems from a singular belief: all students in South Carolina deserve a quality arts education. Through the generosity of great teachers like Elise Helms sharing great lessons, that goal is possible. ABC Project’s mission is to provide leadership to achieve quality arts education for all students. For the past 32 years, ABC Project has worked with schools and districts across the state to invest resources in teacher professionalism to design and create standards-based, quality arts and arts-integrated lessons. As a part of this investment and mission, ABC Project has aimed to collect and publish exemplary lessons that can be shared across the state. Through the partnership with SCETV "LearningWhy," lesson plans are reviewed by content specialists within ABC's network, and then vetted by SCETV for publication. The lessons submitted are from South Carolina Arts Commission ABC Advancement grant applicants who received a top score on a submitted lesson. This year, ABC Project had one teacher who was published. Veteran music teacher Elise Helms’ music lesson, "Making Music with the Pout, Pout Fish," is the culminating lesson on how music can help tell a story. This 2nd-grade lesson asks students to contemplate the question, “how can we use instrument sounds to enhance our storytelling?” Helms’ lesson skillfully combines the use of various classroom percussion instruments along with The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen to guide students as they explore both storytelling and instrumental music. To check out "Making Music with the Pout, Pout Fish," along with other great one-to-one lessons, you can visit www.learningwhy.org. The ABC Project is a long-standing partnership among the South Carolina Arts Commission, Winthrop University, and the South Carolina Dept. of Education.
Helms, a 33-year veteran elementary music educator who has made music education her life's work, feels passionately about the arts being a part of every child's elementary school experience and beyond. Currently, at AC Moore Elementary School in Columbia (Richland One School District), she taught at Irmo Elementary (District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties), where she was chosen Teacher of the Year in 2003. Among her many leadership contributions, she served as lead teacher for District 5 Elementary Music teachers, president of the Elementary Division of South Carolina Music Educators Association, and coach for the Curriculum Leadership Institute for the Arts. She is the co-founder of the District 5 Elementary Honor Choir which was chosen to participate in the Celebration of States in Washington for two different years. Helms earned a bachelor's of music education from Newberry College and a master's in education in administration from the UofSC.

Jason Rapp

Race in America: How art, and a St. Helena champion, open world’s eyes to S.C.’s Gullah Culture

An interview with Mary Inabinett Mack


Mary Inabinett Mack is a newly-minted recipient of the Governor's Award for the Arts and a legend in her coastal community of St. Helena Island.

Late last week, she was the subject of a story chronicling her community impact through the arts (subscription may be required to read) by David Lauderdale of the Hilton Head Island Packet. Mack was, until recently, owner of Red Piano Too Art Gallery. Her influence in Lowcountry art, in particular Gullah-centric art, is what helped her to the state's highest award for the arts. From the story:

She would get a nursing degree in New York City, raise a family there, and move back home for good in 1977. She was deputy director of the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services by day, and an art framer by night.

In New York, Mack’s husband took her to an outdoor art display in Greenwich Village, and her walls were never again bare.

“Art fulfills a need,” she said. “It’s like a passion. It lifts my spirit.”

As a student at Penn, Mack sat next to Sam Doyle Jr. They called him “Chubby.”The teacher asked them to bring in something from the community to reflect their lives. Chubby brought one of his daddy’s paintings.We can look back now and see how it changed the course of history.

Jason Rapp

Fairfield Central High’s ‘Theater Tech Team (T3)’ brings home title

Midlands school earns National Federation of High Schools award


The South Carolina High School League announced that its candidate for the 2020 NFHS Heart of the Arts Award, the Fairfield Central High T3 (Theatre Tech Team), has been selected by the NFHS Heart of the Arts Selection Committee to receive the NFHS Section 3 Heart of the Arts Award.

SCHSL Commissioner Jerome Singleton states, “To say we are pleasantly surprised with yet another NFHS award is putting it mildly. We have had a banner year as far as national recognitions and, this being only our second arts centered nomination and winning the Section 3 title, it puts a bright light on a somewhat somber end to 2019-20 school year. We are truly proud of the Fairfield Central High students for their work on the T3 projects, especially a production as moving as A Pony and His Boy.”

Although the SCHSL is not an activities association, all states are encouraged to nominate their state’s best arts activities and projects. Last year, South Carolina won the national title with Beaufort High School’s theater club. There are only eight section award winners in the country each year.

"I am already so proud of the students, so to learn that their accomplishments were appreciated outside of the district was truly heartwarming. For the past three years these students have come together from such a variety of backgrounds and interests, from athletes to STEM Cohort members, from G&T Artistic identifications to students with special needs, they've worked as a team to bring important stories to the forefront in our community, and they’ve done it together," Fairfield County School District Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts Julianne Neal said. "Not only do they collaborate because they need to do that for a project, they truly care about one another and the stories that they are telling. As each of them moves toward graduation, whether they continue in an arts-based career or plan to enjoy the arts as a hobby or past-time, through the T3 program they know that their creativity and focus on important issues can make a difference in the world. I’m so very proud of every one of them."
Top photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels
Secondary photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Jason Rapp

SCAC announces four 2021 fellowship recipients

Individual excellence in writing, dance honored


for immediate release

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Hard work and exceptional abilities are earning four South Carolina artists practicing in the dance and writing disciplines fellowships from the South Carolina Arts Commission for fiscal year 2021.

The South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) Board of Directors approved four $5,000 fellowships among several other FY21 grant awards to be announced at a later date. The SCAC’s four fellows are:
  • Sarah Blackman of Greenville County in prose,
  • John Pursley III of Greenville County for poetry,
  • Erin Bailey of Richland County for dance choreography,
  • and Tanya Wideman-Davis of Richland County for dance performance.
Individual artists residing in South Carolina full-time whose work covers prose, poetry, dance choreography, and dance performance were invited to apply last fall for fiscal year 2021 awards. Out-of-state panelists from each discipline reviewed applications and, based solely on blind reviews of anonymous work samples, recommend recipients of each $5,000 fellowship. “Fellowships recognize and reward the artistic achievements of exceptional South Carolina individual artists. Recognition from a fellowship lends artistic prestige and can often open doors to other resources and employment opportunities,” SCAC Executive Director David Platts said. A diverse group of panelists judged the nominees applying to the FY21 disciplines in which they work. The poetry panelists were Joseph Bathanti, writer-in-residence at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina; author Sandra Beasley, an instructor with the University of Tampa who lives in Washington; and publisher Lucinda Clark, principal with the Poetry Matters Project in Augusta, Georgia. Author/educator Catherine Reid of Burnsville, North Carolina and Charlie Vazquez, a consultant in New York City, judged the prose applicants. Panelists of the dance performance applicants were Laurel Lawson of Atlanta, Georgia with Full Radius Dance and Tamara Nadel of Minneapolis, Minnesota with Ragamala Dance Company. Maura Garcia, principal of Maura Garcia Dance in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Patrick Makuakane of San Francisco, California with Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu Dance Company served as panelists of the dance choreography applicants. Four fellowships per year are awarded to artists working in rotating disciplines. One artist from each of these fields: visual arts, craft, media: production, and media: screenwriting will be honored in fiscal year 2022. To be eligible, artists must be at least 18 years old and a legal U.S. resident with permanent residence in the state for two years prior to the application date and throughout the fellowship period. Applications will be accepted later this summer following announcement by the SCAC. For more on discipline rotation, eligibility requirements, and the application process, please visit https://www.southcarolinaarts.com/grant/fel/.

About the FY21 Individual Artist Fellowship Recipients

Sarah Blackman | Prose | Greenville County Sarah Blackman is the director of creative writing at the Fine Arts Center, an arts-centered public high school in Greenville, South Carolina. Her poetry and prose have been published in a number of journals, magazines, and anthologies and she has been featured on the Poetry Daily website. Blackman is the co-fiction editor of Diagram, the online journal of experimental prose, poetry and schematics; and the founding editor of Crashtest, an online magazine for high school age writers she edits alongside her Fine Arts Center students. Her story collection Mother Box, published by FC2 in 2013, was the winner of the 2012 Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize. Her novel, Hex, was published by FC2 in April 2016 and in 2018 she joined its board. John Pursley III | Poetry | Greenville County John Pursley III teaches contemporary literature and poetry at Clemson University, where he also directs the annual Clemson Literary Festival. He is the author of the poetry collection, If You Have Ghosts (Zone 3 Press), as well as the chapbooks, A Story without Poverty (South Carolina Poetry Initiative) and A Conventional Weather (New Michigan Press), among others. In addition, he works as the poetry editor of Burnside Review and is an assistant editor for the South Carolina Review. His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, Colorado Review, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Erin Bailey | Dance: Choreography | Richland County Erin Bailey is a South Carolina native who discovered her passion for dance at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville. She has degrees from Columbia College (BFA) and Texas Women’s University (MFA) and has her certification and licensure in massage. She is an adjunct dance professor at Columbia and Coker colleges and the University of South Carolina. Bailey has worked and performed with Columbia area dance companies since 2004 and has performed nationally and internationally at festivals like Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston. In 2018 she founded and remains artistic director of Moving Body Dance Company. She has twice received awards for her choreography work. Photo by Jesse Scroggins. Tanya Wideman-Davis | Dance: Performance | Richland County Tanya Wideman-Davis is the co-director of Wideman Davis Dance and is on faculty as associate professor at the University of South Carolina in the Department of Theatre and Dance and African American Studies. With an extensive career as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, she completed her Master of Fine Arts from Hollins University/ADF (2012). Tanya has danced with many world-renowned companies, including Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joffrey Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Spectrum Dance Theater, Ballet NY, and as guest artist with Ballet Memphis, Cleveland San Jose Ballet, and Quorum Ballet (Portugal).  She received international acclaim as “Best Female Dancer of 2001-2002” from Dance Europe magazine. Photo by Sammy Lopez.

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, S.C., 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.

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Rock Hill resident selected for Alabama juried exhibition

Patrick Faile's painting "Spring Break" was selected for the Watercolor Society of Alabama's 2020 National Juried Exhibition. This is his third acceptance to this national exhibition and qualifies him for Signature Membership within the Watercolor Society of Alabama. He is also member of numerous watercolor societies across America and this will be his fourth signature membership. He is a native and resident of Rock Hill and a working watercolor artist known for his national park paintings. More of his work may be seen on his website at https://www.patrickfaile.com/.

Jason Rapp

Podcast features SCAC’s ‘Art of Community: Rural SC’

Rural shines in podcast series from UofSC

Growing Rural Podcast logo
A rural-focused podcast sat down recently to chat with the South Carolina Arts Commission's Susan DuPlessis, program director of "The Art of Community: Rural SC." "Growing Rural" is a podcast devoted to rural produced by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and its SC Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare. DuPlessis raved to The Hub about it. "I want to say a big thanks to Dr. Kevin Bennett and Alanti McGill for their interest in this initiative and the great way this series of podcasts is casting rural in a new light," DuPlessis said. DuPlessis would know; her work has been shining light on rural since the program launched in 2016. Originally in six "Promise Zone" counties in lower South Carolina, the program has spread to 15 counties total and creates a way to support new leadership, generates energy, and motivates action in our state’s rural communities by addressing long-standing challenges using arts and culture. It unites communities by giving more people a platform. One of those new leaders, Dr. Yvette McDaniel, was featured in an earlier "Growing Rural" episode. You can learn more about "Art of Community: Rural SC" on SouthCarolinaArts.com and by reading its new brochure. To listen to the podcast, visit the "Growing Rural" page.