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Ment Nelson brings pride of place to ‘Souf Cak’

It's a great day in South Carolina Souf Cak. One can easily envision that phrase appearing among Ment Nelson's tweets at some point, if it's not in the 3,100+ already tweeted. His mission statement on the social media platform is "I make it cool to be from South Carolina," so we posit that our lede is not a stretch. But don't take The Hub's word for it; the Post & Courier undoubtedly has more cachet and on Monday made the case for Nelson's innate coolness with a wonderful story you should read if you haven't already:

As an emerging artist who has gone from bagging groceries to collaborating on a New York gallery show in the span of two years, Nelson doesn't draw a line between his portraits, his hip-hop songwriting, his computerized artwork and his ebullient social-media presence. He'll use any format that gets the job done, up to and including posing for a selfie with a roost full of chickens.
Hat tip to P&C writer Paul Bowers. Artists from South Carolina are certainly germane to a Hub story, but Ment is also working on a new initiative we're going to begin talking about soon called "Create: Rural S.C." The S.C. Arts Commission will lead research on South Carolina’s creative cluster, with a deeper examination of the creative economy in the state’s rural Promise Zone (Barnwell, Bamberg, Allendale, Hampton, Jasper, Colleton Counties), a priority community of the USDA-RD (the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development). A cohort of “Next Generation” creative professionals in the Promise Zone will assist in all aspects of the development and roll-out of the plan. This program is an outgrowth of the SCAC's "The Art of Community: Rural S.C." initiative, which is active in each of the Promise Zone counties as the umbrella organization for this program and already bearing fruit in the region. Hear more from the young voices of "Create: Rural S.C." in this video. YOUNG VOICES VIDEO 5 MINUTES from Cook Productions on Vimeo.  

The art of literacy: New park hopes to promotes education through expression

The South Carolina Arts Commission launched The Art of Community: Rural SC in May 2016 to help advance rural development through the arts, culture and creative placemaking. From the Jasper County Sun Article and photos by Liz Bloom

Jasper County ranked 45th in the state in education in 2014, with 49 percent of third-graders testing below state standards in reading. The county’s high school dropout rate of 6.8 percent from 2013-14 ranked 46th. When Jasper County Parks and Recreation Director Johnny Davis saw those stats from 2016 Kids Count South Carolina data, he felt compelled to try to raise awareness in a positive message. On Saturday, thanks to a Promise Zone grant, he – and members of the community – built a new art park for kids in downtown Ridgeland. “We were given a grant by the South Carolina Arts Commission. It was given to each county in the Promise Zone and part of the idea was that we were to try to determine an issue … to address and pick a project that would bring awareness and address that issue. We chose education, and in particular literacy, to address in our county,” said Davis. “We could use the money in the private or public sector, but they wanted us not to create something new, but go with what had been working already in the area. We chose the Morris Center downtown because it was centrally located and had some good momentum with its opening and drawing in lots of folks from the outside. We decided to do an art park. It’s in the back of the center in an area that’s not being utilized, and we thought it would be the perfect place.” Davis and his small Jasper County Arts Council embraced a simple theme – art of literacy. The idea is that literacy along with visual arts provide students invaluable ways to express themselves through words, pictures, paintings. At the grand reveal on Saturday, kids and adults cycled in and out of the green lot next to the Morris Center on Jacob Smart Boulevard in Ridgeland to paint stepping stones, help build the giant scrabble board, and create paintings and drawings to display. Davis wanted the community to be proud of something and claim ownership. The green space is just a small park, but Davis has a bigger vision to add murals to walls and even make the area a place to host outdoor movies for families. He wants the area to evolve into a regular epicenter of community and fellowship. He doesn’t see a big need for playgrounds, or fancy installations, just an area where people can feel safe and express themselves. From there he hopes to spread the pressing issue of literacy. “The best thing to do is bring awareness that there’s an issue. We do have an issue in Jasper County with illiteracy and drop-outs. With education being our focus …, we want to help provide places to go after school for kids, for them to not only express themselves through homework, but through art,” he said. “Let them be creative and grow in that way, give them a chance to work their brains and learn to express themselves in a creative way, and we’ve got to give them opportunities to do that. We’ve got to provide places for them to go and do that. “This project is not meant to solve the county’s issue, but just to bring awareness to it. Hopefully this jump-starts something bigger and better and we can start doing these things around all of the county.” The art park project intends to highlight the poor literacy rates, but also promote local art. For the murals Davis wants to paint, he’s hoping to hold a contest at RHHS for students to come up with designs and get an entire group to paint two or more of them on a building by the Morris Center. He wants kids to come to the park to paint, draw, and perform – the Scrabble board is also a stage for kids, speakers, and artists, to utilize. “There’s a bigger mission, bigger vision with this project,” said Davis. “This is kind of the jump-start.” There’s more to highlight in Jasper’s schools besides test scores, and Davis hopes to do just that.

Estill group embracing opportunities with Art of Community: Rural SC

(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. [caption id="attachment_29095" align="alignright" width="300"]Estill 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.[/caption] “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.

South Carolina Arts Commission launches The Art of Community: Rural SC

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 Art of Community: Rural SC counties“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.” [caption id="attachment_26750" align="alignright" width="300"]Art of Community: Rural SC mavens Left to right: Gary Brightwell, Susan DuPlessis, Evelyn Coker, Audrey Hopkins-Williams, Johnny Davis, Dr. Yvette McDaniel, Lottie Lewis[/caption] 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 CarmichaelDr. 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. Bob ReederJ. 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.