As part of its work with the South Carolina Promise Zone, the South Carolina Arts Commission has launched a new initiative, The Art of Community: Rural S.C. This pilot project advances the Arts Commission’s commitment to rural development through the arts, culture and creative placemaking and is supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
The initiative began in May with the creation of small community teams that will gather July 26 to reimagine their communities through an arts and culture lens. Each team will then build small demonstration projects to grapple with a current community development issue. These projects will focus on how the arts can address local issues that may include economic, community or workforce development, healthcare, education, public safety, housing or capital. The Arts Commission will provide small grants to assist with these projects.
“The Arts Commission is proud to partner with the Promise Zone as it moves its strategic plan forward,” said Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, one of 40 partners and supporters in a six-county Lowcountry effort to envision new possibilities and create a foundation for more economic vibrancy. The Promise Zone federal designation was awarded last year and provides a new way for people in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties to benefit from grants administered by 12 federal agencies through more than 30 programs. Within this overall effort, the South Carolina Arts Commission has developed a new approach to its work in this region. The six counties make up the service area of Susan DuPlessis, Arts Commission program director and arts coordinator for that region for the last nine years.
“Through this initiative, we have created a new framework for building local connections, community engagement and capacity,” DuPlessis said. “It was born out of our participation in the Promise Zone’s strategic planning process in the fall of 2015. In all of the sessions, I heard how arts and culture were important, whether we were talking about healthcare or workforce development. The arts were clearly identified as key to community pride, attachment and new possibilities.”
Left to right: Gary Brightwell, Susan DuPlessis, Evelyn Coker, Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Johnny Davis, Dr. Yvette McDaniel, Lottie Lewis
The Art of Community: Rural S.C. is about engagement at all levels—from local and regional to state and national. Three sets of individuals representing these levels are integral to the goal of working locally to explore what makes communities places people want to live, work and play. The three groups are “mavens” (community connectors), local teams and advisors.
Six mavens have agreed to work closely with the Arts Commission to launch, drive and sustain this new approach. Mavens and the communities they represent are Lottie Lewis, Allendale; Dr. Yvette McDaniel, Denmark (Bamberg County); Evelyn Coker, Blackville (Barnwell County); Gary Brightwell, Walterboro (Colleton County); Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Estill (Hampton County); and Johnny Davis, Jasper County. The mavens will lead their local teams in a series of regional meetings for cross-county learning and community building through creative placemaking.
The Arts Commission has also partnered with Kentucky’s rural Promise Zone to create a cross-cultural exchange between the two states. South Carolina’s mavens will meet June 16-18 with arts, economic and community leaders in Hazard and Whitesburg, Kentucky. “We expect to share about our communities while learning the steps Kentucky’s leaders have taken to use arts and culture in advancing rural communities,” DuPlessis said. Kentucky and South Carolina are home to the only rural Promise Zone regions in the country.
Twenty-three national and state leaders representing expansive thinking in the world of arts, culture and community development have agreed to champion this effort as members of an Advisory Council. The council is co-chaired by two native South Carolinians, Union native Dr. Ann Carmichael, dean of USC Salkehatchie, and Bob Reeder, program director for Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) and a Rock Hill native.
“Having these accomplished individuals involved—one a leader in higher education, the other a leader in community development for rural communities—provides new perspectives,” said May. “We are proud to spearhead this effort and look forward to supporting the local teams, learning from them and connecting them to more resources to benefit their communities and the Promise Zone region.”
Advisory Council members:
Dr. Ann Carmichael, Co-Chair, USC-Salkehatchie, South Carolina
J. Robert “Bob” Reeder, Co-Chair, Rural LISC, Washington, D.C.
Savannah Barrett, Art of the Rural, Kentucky
Javier Torres, ArtPlace America, New York
Leonardo Vazquez, AICP, The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, NJ
Dr. J. Herman Blake, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission
Kerri Forrest, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation,Lowcountry SC and Chicago
Susie Surkamer, SouthArts, Hilton Head and Atlanta
Doug Peach, University of Indiana, Ph.D. graduate student, Indiana
David Smalls, Community Consultant, Walterboro/Columbia
Carolyn Lackey, Charleston Association of Grant Professionals, Charleston
Warren Chavous, USC Salkehatchie Leadership, Allendale/Promise Zone
Andy Brack, Better South, Charleston & Promise Zone Liaison
Jane Przybysz, McKissick Museum at University of South Carolina
Brandolyn Pinkston, (Ret.) Consumer Affairs Director, Savannah and Columbia
Bernie Mazyck, S.C. Association for Community Economic Development
Sara Johnson, Municipal Association of South Carolina
Michelle Knight, Lowcountry Council of Governments
Danny Black, SouthernCarolina Alliance, SC Promise Zone
Dee Crawford, S.C. Arts Commission Board, McDonald’s Franchisee, Aiken
Sara June Goldstein, S.C. Arts Commission, Statewide Partnerships
Ken May, S.C. Arts Commission, Executive Director
Advisory Council co-chairs
Dr. Ann C. Carmichael is the dean of the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie. Prior to her appointment in 2000, Dr. Carmichael served for nine years as director of the Salkehatchie Walterboro Campus and coordinator of development, overseeing the institution’s multimillion dollar capital campaign. She earned her Ph.D. in counseling from USC and a Master’s in Student Personnel Services from Clemson University. Prior to joining USC Salkehatchie in 1991, she served as associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of students at Charleston Southern University and dean of students at Judson College in Marion, Ala. Dr. Carmichael was instrumental in securing the Promise Zone designation for the six-county region, a designation that was awarded only to one rural community. Dr. Carmichael is a graduate of the Diversity Leadership Institute at Furman University and currently serves as chair-elect of the Colleton Walterboro Chamber of Commerce, the SouthernCarolina Regional Economic Development Alliance Board of Directors, and as chairman of the Savannah River Site Redevelopment Authority Board.
J. Robert ‘Bob’ Reeder serves as a program director and field program manager for Rural LISC (the rural component of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation). There he directs sustainable rural community development activities covering 72 rural, community-based organizations located in 43 states and over 1,400 counties. His areas of expertise include community engagement, board of director development and training, land retention strategies in rural areas and other issues impacting land tenure, financial underwriting, project feasibility analysis, grant and loan assistance, and organizational capacity building. Reeder has built a 30-year career devoted to social and economic justice, housing and comprehensive community development, particularly in incorporating arts and cultural-based strategies (creative placemaking) in the revival of distressed rural communities, public policy, and legal and administrative advocacy. A native of Rock Hill, S.C., he earned a BA in Government from Wofford College and his JD from Vanderbilt University School of Law.