(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.
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.
“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.