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Temporary sculpture installed in Charleston

'Under Glass' conjoins natural sciences, spirituality

The Charleston Parks Conservancy is bringing public sculpture to the West Ashley Greenway with a temporary art installation by Georgia artist Mike Wsol. The piece was installed May 8 near the St. Andrew's School of Math and Science between Campbell Drive and the West Ashley Greenway. The Conservancy awarded Wsol with an exhibition prize at ArtFields in May 2018. ArtFields is an annual art exhibit and competition in Lake City showcasing the work of artists around the Southeast. Over the last year, Wsol has been planning and designing his sculpture for the West Ashley Greenway. Titled “Under Glass,” Wsol said the sculpture was “designed with the natural sciences and spirituality in mind. Its form divided in two chambers separates the viewer below from the natural light entering and reflecting within the upper chamber. Experiencing ‘Under Glass’ highlights the separation of the viewer’s physical body from the passing light nature provides.” The sculpture is made from two 325-gallon scrap propane tanks bolted to an X-shaped foundation that will be buried underground and covered with sod and soil. After the installation is complete, the sculpture will appear to balance atop the earth. It will be on display until October. In the coming months, the Conservancy will host educational events and opportunities for the public and schoolchildren to view the sculpture and interact with the artist. Wsol's recent creative work has taken the form of large experiential, interactive public sculpture, prints, and drawings. His work has been exhibited in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami, among other cities. Wsol has also been the recipient of grants and awards from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, Indiana University, and the Georgia State University Center for Collaborative and International Arts to name a few. He earned a master of architecture from the University of Virginia, a master of fine art in sculpture from the University of Georgia, a master of arts in sculpture and a bachelor of arts in sculpture from Eastern Illinois University. The Charleston Parks Conservancy launched its Art in the Parks program in 2017, an effort to encourage temporary public art displays in Charleston city parks through collaborations with artists and arts organizations, including Redux Contemporary Art Center, City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and ArtFields. The first art installation was in Hampton Park last year. In 2017, the Conservancy received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a planning and public engagement process to encourage creative placemaking along the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway. The site of Wsol’s installation was identified in the plan as location for public art that engages the community and encourages social interaction. “This installation is the first of many public art projects we’ll bring to West Ashley,” said Harry Lesesne, executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy. “As we work on the overall master plan for revitalizing the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway, pubic art and arts programming will play an important role in how we reshape this public space and encourage resident use and engagement.” The ArtFields exhibition prize is part of the Art in the Parks program created by the Charleston Parks Conservancy in collaboration with Redux Contemporary Art Center and the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs.

About the Charleston Parks Conservancy

The Charleston Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring the people of Charleston to connect with their parks and together create stunning public places and a strong community. The Conservancy opens doors to individuals and organizations in Charleston wanting to engage with their parks and green spaces in a kaleidoscope of positive ways. With the help of its Park Angels, the Conservancy improves, enhances, and invigorates these spaces, making Charleston even better, stronger, and more successful. For more information about or to support the Charleston Parks Conservancy, please visit www.charlestonparksconservancy.org.

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Art in the Parks Week comes to Charleston

The Charleston Parks Conservancy will celebrate Art in the Parks Week with two events open to the public.

  • An Art in the Parks reception will be 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 at Redux Contemporary Art Center (1056 King St.) The public is invited to hear from Georgia-based artist Joseph Dreher (known as JOEKINGATL). In April, Dreher installed four large-scale sculptures in Hampton Park, kicking off the Conservancy’s Art in the Parks program. The installation – called “Plant Vitae” – is located on the southern edge of Hampton Park along Mary Murray Drive. It represents Charleston residents in a way that celebrates the people and the community. Dreher worked with children from schools near Hampton Park and the local Boys and Girls Club to create the portraits showcased in the final art pieces. Dreher will talk about his inspiration and the creative process for these works of art as well as his other artwork. One of his sculptures will be on display in front of Redux Contemporary Art Center. This event is free and open to the public. Light food and drinks will be served.
  • Join the Conservancy for Art in the Parks at Twilight from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18 at Hampton Park. The public can get one final look at Dreher’s sculptures in the park before they are removed. He also will be on hand to answer questions about the pieces and his artistic process. In addition, live artists will be working during the event, local band Lumberjack Time Traveler will perform, and food will be available for purchase from Blackense Soul Food Hibachi food cart. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
The Conservancy launched its Art in the Parks program in 2017, an effort to install temporary public art displays in Charleston city parks through collaborations with artists and arts organizations, including Redux Contemporary Art Center, City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and ArtFields. For more information, visit www.charlestonparksconservancy.org.

About the Charleston Parks Conservancy

The Charleston Parks Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring the people of Charleston to connect with their parks and together create stunning public places and a strong community. The Conservancy opens doors to individuals and organizations in Charleston wanting to engage with their parks and green spaces in a kaleidoscope of positive ways. With the help of its Park Angels, the Conservancy improves, enhances, and invigorates these spaces, making Charleston even better, stronger, and more successful. For more information about or to support the Charleston Parks Conservancy, please visit www.charlestonparksconservancy.org.

The rise of public art in South Carolina

From the Charleston Post and Courier Article by Adam Parker; photos by Brad Nettles and Adam Parker (Image above: This mural is located at the corner of Huger and Hanover streets in Charleston.)

In West Ashley’s Avondale neighborhood, an alley behind the shops and bars near Magnolia Street has become an outdoor exhibition space filled with large and small murals. Artists have painted images ranging from an enormous turkey vulture to small cartoon-like figures on the sides of the buildings. On the Charleston peninsula, three murals by Shepard Fairey and several more on Huger Street by a variety of artists can be viewed. David Boatwright’s work — part art, part commercial signage — is scattered throughout the downtown area. In Columbia, a growing number of murals and sculptural pieces are adding a colorful dimension to a city so enthusiastic about public art that it has a dedicated nonprofit organization whose main purpose is to facilitate more of it.
This deliberate approach adopted by Columbia now is taking hold in the Holy City where efforts are underway to introduce more curated public art to the shared environment, and not just downtown. One advocate is even calling for a “1 percent for art” program that would set aside money in every public building construction budget for the purpose of procuring artwork. “I love public art,” said Mark Sloan, director of the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art. “It does serve a vital role in terms of meeting people where they are. It’s in the public way; you have no choice.” Sloan thinks public art is important enough to warrant more consistent support from patrons, civic leaders and private interests. Mostly recently he helped arrange the public display of five Fairey works in conjunction with a 2014 Halsey exhibition. (Three of those pieces remain.) Sloan also curated a big 2016 project in the Upstate called “Seeing Spartanburg” which featured nine outdoor light installations by Erwin Reidl. “Innovative, temporary public art can spur creative thought,” Sloan said. “That has unintended positive consequences.” It democratizes art, giving residents a chance to appreciate it outside the often rarified museum or gallery environment, he said. It also inspires dialogue about the urban landscape, city life, acute issues confronting the community and more. “The role of public art is to help us formulate better questions,” he said. In Columbia, a nonprofit established in 2012 that is almost entirely funded by the city has worked to cultivate public art, commission projects and establish a procurement and review process. One Columbia typically partners with private donors (individuals and companies) on these projects, according to its director Lee Snelgrove. To date, it has been involved in about 24 mural, sculpture and installation projects, 15 of which have come to fruition just this year. [caption id="attachment_31853" align="alignright" width="400"] A mural in Columbia by the Milagros Collective, made for the Indie Grits Festival earlier this year. (Adam Parker/Staff)[/caption] Several murals and sculptures are located downtown near Main Street, providing an important dimension to the city’s ongoing revitalization, Snelgrove and other civic leaders said. Public art also is helping to connect the Main Street area with the Vista neighborhood across Assembly Street, and it's being embraced by the Richland County Library, too. “It’s kind of all coming to a point where people want more coordination,” Snelgrove said. When an opportunity comes along, One Columbia hashes out some basic details with the organization sponsoring the art; helps to identify an appropriate location, coordinating with city planners; then assembles its public art selection committee. The committee, which consists of an artist, architect, developer, curator and others, meets quarterly, Snelgrove said. They issue a call for artists, assess submissions and determine a short list of candidates. They flesh out the project plan and budget, which includes a 20 percent earmark that goes into an art maintenance fund for use by the city. Each project takes about a year to fully implement on average. The process can be adapted for art projects on private property, Snelgrove said. The response has been positive. One Columbia might receive a few complaints about the aesthetics or design of a particular work, but no one has expressed any dissatisfaction about the concept itself, the process or the fact that the cityscape now includes numerous artistic landmarks, Snelgrove said. The city has been an essential partner, helping with site preparation, installations, safety issues and more. When one project required the creative painting of crosswalks, the city balked at first. Would it endanger pedestrians? But when they witnessed the results (no one was confused about where and how they trod), city officials became enthusiastic supporters of the quirky crosswalk initiative. “There is an appetite for (public art), but they don’t always know they have an appetite for it until they see it,” Snelgrove said. Lately, One Columbia has turned its attention to places outside the downtown area, such as the Five Points neighborhood, the Vista neighborhood and the Columbia Bethlehem Community Center a mile and a half north of downtown. It's also involved in the "Southern Lights" project, a laser installation at the Congaree River. [caption id="attachment_31854" align="alignleft" width="400"] An installation at the Richland Library (Provided)[/caption] Meanwhile, the Richland County Public Library has embraced Sloan’s concept of a “1 percent for art” program. Currently in the midst of an extensive facilities improvement project, funded by a $59 million bond referendum passed in 2013, the library network is ensuring that each of 11 branches has at least one commissioned work of art, according to Emily Stoll, media relations specialist. The four-story central library on Assembly Street includes a gallery space temporarily showcasing the works that will eventually find a permanent place in each of the branches. Most of the artists are local, Stoll said. The art project is part of a larger effort to transform the library system into a robust public space. “It’s a hub of information, but also a conversation hub, a place where people can learn and share,” Stoll said. And they do. The main branch soon will include a new department of studio services where artists and writers can work. Another floor will be devoted to children and teenagers. Another level will have research and career materials. Think of it as a community center, Stoll said, one in which art plays a central role. Art also plays a central role for nine days each April in Lake City, the small town in Florence County that hosts the big — and growing — Artfields event, a multifaceted, multidiscipline showcase and competition. And in Myrtle Beach, an effort was launched a few years ago to improve the area with public art. "The Myrtle Beach Downtown Public Art Initiative was created to lead the process of establishing physical and performing arts in the (Downtown Redevelopment Corporation) District," its website states.

Public art evolves

In Charleston, public art efforts so far have been ad hoc. The Halsey Institute coordinated Fairey’s mural-making. The nonprofit Enough Pie, which is concerned with responsible development and arts advocacy on the upper peninsula, arranged for the murals on Huger Street. There are a couple of remnants of Spoleto Festival USA’s landmark 1991 public art show called “Places with a Past,” the most prominent being David Hammons’ odd-shaped “House of the Future” on America Street. [caption id="attachment_31855" align="alignright" width="400"] Some of the mural art in Avondale is graffiti-like, some fantastical, some representative. (Brad Nettles/staff)[/caption] The murals in Avondale were largely facilitated by the chART Outdoor Initiative & Gallery and include an enormous turkey vulture by the well-known Italian street artist Hitnes. Hitnes happens to be in town working on an exhibition to be mounted at the Halsey in the fall of 2018. He said he got his start 20 years ago making rogue art — unauthorized graffiti, but after a few years graduated to street art that required more planning and cooperation with others. He has painted large murals all over the world and gained a reputation as a leader of the street art movement. In recent years, Hitnes’ work has taken a naturalistic turn. His Halsey show is called “The Image Hunter: On the Trail of John James Audubon.” Hitnes spent three months traveling through the eastern half of the United States, following the ornithological trail Audubon forged in 1820-22. He collected bird samples (photographic), make a video documentary and created art along the way. One of the murals he painted was the Charleston turkey vulture. Another was a barn owl at a friend’s residence.
Hitnes said the nature of painted public art — which is clearly divided into two categories, graffiti and street art — has changed significantly in the past 20 years. Graffiti is unauthorized yet relies on strict codes and rules, he said. It’s the same everywhere. Street art is illustrative, comprehensible, often commissioned. With the advent of social media, the availability of digital tools like Photoshop, the emphasis on graphic design and the introduction of moneyed interests, the public art enterprise changed, and along with it the way galleries work, the way street artists are treated and the way art is perceived. “Street art became curated, desirable, more like contemporary art,” he said. Now, one local nonprofit is seeking to become a public art facilitator, not unlike One Columbia. The Charleston Parks Conservancy has been awarded a $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant for the purpose of installing artwork along the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway. Think of it as a pilot program, said Harry Lesesne, executive director of the Parks Conservancy. The organization, now 10 years old, has worked closely with the city to improve its greenspaces. Its last big capital project was the renovation of Colonial Lake. The Parks Conservancy remains dedicated to this kind of work, Lesesne said. “But we felt it was time for us to expand our horizons a bit,” he said. He and his colleagues hope to become standard-bearers for public art, facilitators akin to One Columbia, advocates who argue that engagement with art enhances the park experience and improves quality of life, he said. “It’s kind of a void in our city, so that was something we thought we could catalyze some attention around,” Lesesne said. Half of the NEA grant will be spent on planning, the other half on art. “Number one, we want to incorporate an artist into the master-planning process and have that artist help us with the design,” as well as identifying other artists who might participate, good sites and necessary infrastructure, he said. “Number two is to install pieces of art along the greenway.” The effort should take less than a year, Lesesne said. It is meant “to show people what can be done and that more is coming, both on the bikeway and all over the city.” For example, Lesesne said, one other piece of public art —coming to Hampton Park in the fall — is a sculpture by Joe Dreher of Decatur, Georgia, whose work was featured in Lake City's Artfields this year. Scott Watson, executive director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, said his goal is to define a sustainable public art process based on the Parks Conservancy project and other models, such as One Columbia’s. It’s useful, he said, to take into account the recent dustup in Mount Pleasant over a Sergio Odeith mural at Moe’s Southwest Grill that some town officials initially took to be a sign and therefore not allowed. Watson said public art is a good way for communities to express their aspirations and initiate change, especially in areas in need of improvement, such as West Ashley. “Why wouldn’t we want public art to be a crucible for how revitalization can happen?” And not everything needs to be a mural, he added. “We could have light installations, sound installations, an eclipse-related project — if we had a process to get it done,” Watson said. “We (at the Office of Cultural Affairs) would like to help frame out and organize a structure that’s sustainable and scalable. We don’t want it to be arbitrary. At end of the day, it should be something that pushes boundaries.”