The Arts Grand Strand changes hands, maintains legacy

William “Billy” Miller of The Arts Grand Strand. Contributed photo.

One man’s dedication to promotion of the arts along the Grand Strand has become a legacy of leadership. Fortunately, the individual taking up the torch has his own passion and gift for bringing arts-minded people together.

John Morken (1948-2020), a retired international banker and classical pianist, created The Arts Grand Strand as a one-man operation in 2015. The organization produces and maintains a web site, social media presence, the Grand Strand Art Trail map, and a weekly newsletter.

Artist William “Billy” Miller entered the Myrtle Beach area in mid-2014 and encountered Morken as Miller was becoming acclimated to his new home.

“Everybody says Myrtle Beach doesn’t have any culture, but I’m telling you, they do!” Morken told Miller in one of their earliest conversations. “Do you know how many performances are here? The problem is, nobody knows about them.”

Morken raised funds, obtained sponsors, created a board of directors, and built an organization that offers an ongoing, comprehensive guide to all fine, performing, and cultural arts events in the area – all free of charge for arts organizations.

“He was diligent about it and really put his heart and soul into it,” said Patricia Goodwin, director of the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum of Myrtle Beach.

Miller, meanwhile, was establishing his own gallery and creating connections within the Myrtle Beach arts community. An empowering leader and arts advocate, Miller said he joined “every arts organization I could find” as a means of building a network. He opened William H. Miller Studios and Fine Art in late 2014 and used it as a home base for his own art as well as others’, in addition to teaching classes, mentoring artists, and holding monthly group exhibits. He became a member of the Board of Trustees at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum in January 2015 and was named the 2020 Business Supporter of the Year by the South Carolina Art Education Association.

Over the years, Miller consulted with Morken regularly about The Arts Grand Strand and offered graphic design assistance. When Morken developed health issues, the two began discussing the possibility of Miller’s taking over the helm; upon Morken’s passing in November 2020, Miller knew he would keep his word and maintain the tradition.

Miller’s job over the past few months has involved not only reviewing records and acclimating himself to the inner workings of the organization, but also keeping tabs on upcoming events as the arts world awakes from the hibernation of the Covid pandemic. Miller said the role is a great deal of work, but it’s also rewarding and exciting to be on the cusp of renewed artistic activity along the Grand Strand.

“It’s exciting to see all the events that are going on, and I feel like I’m in the know first,” said Miller.

As a central leader in the local arts community, Miller has plenty of contacts as well as innovative ideas on how to expand and grow the organization. He hopes to transform the Grand Strand Art Trail map into a monthly event featuring extended hours and special activities at area art galleries, as well as a monthly art patrol event of public artists exhibiting their work outside businesses or galleries.

“I have lots of ideas of how we can grow the public profile of the local arts community, how we can pull people together,” said Miller.

As Miller works in a multitude of ways to build momentum both within the arts industry and out in the community, he sees much promise in the future for the Myrtle Beach area and The Arts Grand Strand.

“There’s so much more it could become, and I’m proud to be carrying on John’s work.”

Sara Sobota, Contributing Writer
Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum
August 9, 2021