Remembering Mac Arthur Goodwin

macarthurgoodwin2Our good friend Dr. Mac Arthur Goodwin passed away October 24. He was an early architect of the state’s arts education programs and policies at both the South Carolina Dept. of Education and the South Carolina Arts Commission. A long-time South Carolina Arts Alliance board member and former president of the board, Goodwin was a part of the founding of many arts organizations around the state. He received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts in 1990.

A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, October 29, 2016, at 2 p.m. at Virginia Wingard Memorial United Methodist Church, 1500 Broad River Road, Columbia, SC 29210.

In July 1990, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal ran this article to highlight Goodwin’s Verner Award:

Twenty years ago, Mac Arthur Goodwin’s greatest pleasure came from standing over the shoulder of a young student, helping him to shape a line – to discover for himself the wonders of art. Today, it comes in standing over the shoulders of some 600, 000 students – in helping to shape for the public school system the future of arts in South Carolina. The progression, the artist says, has been a natural one. Who better to advocate the arts than someone who has worked its front lines? Who better to build constituencies than a teacher who has seen, first hand, the impact art can have?

His success as artist-turned-art-consultant for the state Department of Education is one reason why the former Spartan was awarded this year’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award – the governor’s most prestigious commendation for work in art education. Ask him about it, and he will likely joke, “It’s not like I’m the father of art in South Carolina or anything.” Few, however, deny his influence: first in Spartanburg, where he helped make District 7’s program a model for the state; now in Columbia, where he has worked for the past six years to make South Carolina’s arts program one of the premiere in the country. “We’ve been fortunate here in that we’ve had an education department that believed in art, legislators who thought it important enough to fund, and support on the district level,” he maintains. As a result, the state that ranks among the lowest nationally in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores ranks as one of the most aggressive in its approach to the arts. Not only does South Carolina have more than 2,000 art and music teachers, Goodwin says it’s one of a handful of states that require of their students a defined number of arts-related units. Even the financial devastation of Hurricane Hugo last September didn’t shake the commitment, he notes. Proof that the support is here to stay.

It is for this reason that the Orangeburg native is frequently invited throughout the country to talk about what it takes to build strong arts constituencies, and what role art should play in the classroom. “Certainly, there’s a lot more involved than just teaching specific skills,” the soft-spoken instructor asserts. He believes the well-planned curriculum builds confidence in its students, is an effective teacher of cultural heritage, and a way to foster in students their own aesthetic perception. “In many ways, art really teaches them to think,” he says, “and when you measure what schools should be doing for our students, isn’t this a lot more important than test scores?” Because there are no right and wrong answers, it also offers students a much-needed opportunity to succeed. He believes these secondary benefits are many – skills and attitudes to draw on for a lifetime. Suggesting how curriculums can best achieve them is the thrust of his work with the Education Department, where he spends a large part of his time going from district to district to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of individual programs. It’s a different satisfaction from teaching, he says. Less personal, if more far reaching. “Certainly, though, no better.”

What he says has improved is the environment in which today’s art teachers function – one that is different in many ways from the one he entered out of Claflin College more than 25 years ago. Then, art was a luxury, and its teachers often viewed as glorified bulletin board makers. “I was lucky that my family had no negative feelings about it,” he says, “but in school I did have the occasional comment that I was too bright or my grades were too good for me to become an art teacher.” Still, it is all he ever wanted to do. “Even as a young child I was fascinated with drawing,” he says, confessing that his mother still possesses quite a few embarrassing testaments to his early fascination with shape and perspective, color and shadow. He doesn’t recall thinking of himself as unusual: a young black man bent on obtaining an art education degree to employ in the elementary school grades. Maybe because several of his boyhood friends pursued art careers, inspired by what he describes as an extraordinary junior high school program. Maybe because it seemed so natural, his love of working with young people and his innate abilities in art. His earliest jobs were at segregated schools, sometimes implementing the art program all by himself. He came to Spartanburg in 1965, teaching at Carver High School and moving to Spartan High several years later when the two schools merged. He taught in District 7 until 1985, when he accepted, with mixed emotions, the position with the state department and the necessary move to Columbia. “Spartanburg is still home,” he insists, noting that he and his wife, Juanita, maintain a house here and visit as frequently as possible. He also maintains his membership with Southern Exposure, a Spartanburg-based group of professional artists who exhibit in a variety of media.

These days, his own art is frequently squeezed into late-nighters, during which time he pours all of the emotions of his days. His work, usually ethereal images done in pencil, has evolved in as many ways as the artist himself: Always fascinated by multiple dimensions, he has gone from using layers of paper and Plexiglas to achieve this effect to accomplishing it on a single sheet. His signature is a haunting juxtaposition of faces and social imagery, frequently incorporating pertinent words, poetry or phrases in what he creates.

“Very strong, very socially related,” is how Cassandra Baker, executive director of the Spartanburg Arts Council, describes it. She knows Goodwin not only through his work, which is included in the Council’s permanent collection, but through what she describes as his “hundreds of volunteer hours” spent strengthening the arts on a community-wide level. It was Goodwin, for example, who developed the policy for Arts Council exhibition still used today. It was Goodwin who volunteered his time to conduct workshops on such topics as how to improve the production of slides so necessary to showing artists’ work to best advantage. Although the point has long passed since he could make his living through his own art, this has never been Goodwin’s focus. Eloquent on other topics, he is almost reserved when talking about himself and his work. “To teach,” he says quietly, “has been my life. To further the arts.” Susie Surkamer, deputy director of the S.C. Arts Commission, notes that it is something he has accomplished on a state, regional and national level. “The impact he has had has been just tremendous.”