George Patrick McLeer changes gears from Mauldin to state arts advocacy
From The Greenville News
Article and photo by Scott Keeler
For someone who serves as executive director of the leading non-profit arts advocacy group in the state and works out of a performing arts center that has helped revitalize Fountain Inn, George Patrick McLeer’s new office really isn’t artsy.
“I really probably should have more stuff up and I will eventually,” McLeer said as he looked around the white walls of his new work space at the Younts Center for Performing Arts. “We’re a pretty mobile office though. It’s a one-person show.”
McLeer completed the move last week as the South Carolina Arts Alliance office officially shifted from Rock Hill to Fountain Inn. McLeer actually doesn’t have a typical office. It’s part of a shared space in the box office of the Younts Center.
That’s just fine with him.
McLeer didn’t take over as SCAA’s new executive director July 1 for a title or for fancy artwork in a luxurious office. He took it to continue doing what he’s done in Mauldin for the past six years, but on a statewide level.
The SCAA is a coalition of arts organizations, educators, administrators, artists and other business and community leaders, that serve the arts through advocacy and leadership development. The SCAA works throughout South Carolina to encourage civic engagement to advance the arts, to inform public policy and to advocate for public-sector support for the arts and arts education.
“Some of the work that the Arts Alliance does at the state and federal level is making sure that the arts are seen as a tool for community and economic and quality of life,” McLeer said.
Having a mobile office is essential for McLeer as he works throughout the state. A goal is to visit all 46 counties over a two-year span.
McLeer has spent the past six years transforming the Mauldin Cultural Center into an arts center that attracts more than 30,000 visitors each year to a variety of events. In addition to programs, McLeer also led beautification projects outside and inside the old Mauldin Elementary School.
In 2013, McLeer joined the City of Mauldin’s team when it created a new Office of Cultural Affairs.
As the Office of Cultural Affairs’ administrator, McLeer continued to manage the Cultural Center’s facility and programs. At the same time, McLeer was responsible for implementing the Mauldin’s new branding and logo, managing all citywide marketing as well as the city’s website.
McLeer started the Railroad Concert Series, an annual free series featuring locally and nationally known performers. He managed the BBQ Cook-Off, which ranks as arguably the most popular annual event in Mauldin. Most recently, McLeer created the Maudlin Public Art Trail, a 10-year continuous cycle of public art installations surrounding the Cultural Center’s amphitheater.
Soon after McLeer starting working in Mauldin in June of 2010, Southwest Airlines arrived at the GSP International Airport. A cheap fare to Washington D.C. played a big role in where McLeer is today.
“In March of 2011, I ended up going to National Arts Advocacy Day almost by accident,” McLeer said. “Southwest had $40 one-way flights to D.C. and me and my family happened to go on the same weekend as Arts Advocacy Day.”
McLeer said that experience inspired him to really become hands-on in advocacy work. Shortly after making those connections in Washington, McLeer accepted an invitation to join SCAA’s board. He most recently served as the vice president before becoming executive director following the retirement of Betty Plumb.
Plumb, who served as executive director for 27 years, said McLeer brings a fresh look at what a new generation would want from the SCAA. While McLeer officially took the reins July 1, Plumb will be assisting in the transition until Sept. 1.
“We think we’ve got the best man for the job,” Plumb said. “He brings a new skillset and a lot more technology. He’s a real people person with a lot of enthusiasm and great ideas.
“Our constituents enjoy working with him and there’s a real trust factor there because he’s worked with us so closely as vice president.”
A perk of McLeer’s new position is that the SCAA shifted its physical location based on where the executive director lives as well as the commitment the city has made to the arts. McLeer said his Fountain Inn home is about 200 yards away from the Younts Center.
In addition to walking to work, the Younts Center also serves as a homecoming location for McLeer. After graduating from the College of Charleston in 2010, McLeer began working as an intern in the same box office at the Younts Center which was then led by Van Broad.
Much like the Mauldin Cultural Center, the Younts Center is an old schoolhouse that has transformed into a thriving arts facility. Working at an old school seems to come naturally for McLeer, whose parents were both teachers and whose sister is currently studying to become a teacher.
“It’s nice being back. It’s like a full-circle moment,” McLeer said. “I’m on the Board of Trustees at St. Joseph’s (Catholic School) and the School of the Arts Council for College of Charleston, so I have a thing for my alma maters. It’s funny that I’ve always worked in someone’s alma mater.”
McLeer added that education is a passion of his thanks to his family, and arts education is a big focus of the SCAA.
Fountain Inn Economic Development Director Byron Rucker is thrilled to have McLeer as a part of the building that he manages.
“With the ever-growing focus on performing arts in Fountain Inn, this is a natural location for the SCAA and its leadership as it moves into a new era,” Rucker said
The Younts Center’s transformation that began years ago helped start what has been a city-wide revitalization of Fountain Inn. McLeer said part of his duties is to show what the arts can do for other cities — no matter their size — throughout South Carolina.
“I remember building the set pieces for the very first theatrical show inside what is now Cucina 100 (restaurant in downtown Fountain Inn), and I remember having to always bring my dinner with me to rehearsal because there was almost nowhere to eat,” McLeer said. “I have seen firsthand how the arts continue to transform this community and how the vision set by city leaders includes the arts. It’s a vision which mirrors that of the SCAA, and made the move to Fountain Inn an easy decision for our board.”
McLeer said his new job feels like a pinnacle in his career. He joked that with him being 27 years old and Plumb retiring after 27 years, SCAA’s next executive director may have just been born this year.
“I’ve really fallen in love with the advocacy work and working with art in public policy. Mauldin was able to give me a really great platform to explore that,” McLeer said. “So I went for it (the executive director position) and luckily was chosen to do it.
“To see your fingerprints and your impact happen in other areas of the state, not just your own backyard, is kind of surreal, overwhelming, thrilling and terrifying at the same time. But it’s a lot of fun.”