Archive for the ‘SC Arts Commission’ Category

ArtFields Redux 2014, A Look Back at Lake City, SC

Thursday, May 15th, 2014


What a difference a year makes. It will be really interesting to see what version this event shows up in next year. The first event was just a big juried art show with a bigger than normal cash prize for four of the 400 + artists who had one piece of their work on display throughout this small downtown area. Last year there were a few stumbles right out of the gate but overall the small town of Lake City, SC, did a great job pulling the event off and the merchants were delighted to see folks from around the region spending money inside their shops.

After last year’s event I offered some suggestions which I felt would make this event better. I think organizers listened to some of those suggestions, but others are still out there to be considered. Some took my suggestions for criticism, so I didn’t have much, if any, contact with folks who were happy to talk with me before the start of the event in 2013 – what I guess now was just an effort to get lots of publicity and support out of me. Long time followers know that I’m happy to give support, but it won’t come with sugar coating and a pledge to always agree with everything. I’m just not made that way.

I’m hopeful for this art competition and exhibition, but I won’t call it an epic arts festival until it becomes one. They can advertise the event any way they choose, but my advice is to tone it down a bit and wait to see if they earn such a description. They’re doing better than some bigger communities, but time will tell what this event should be called. Only in the world of television is a show a hit before anyone sees the first show or after just one episode.

So What About This Year’s Event?

I’ll say this again as I did last year, ArtFields missed the opportunity to educate the public and artists about the opportunity this event was offering through social media. I have no idea what effort they had in other states, but what media crossed my radar just never seemed to explain the event or the Lake City community other than to direct folks to check out their website for further info – which wasn’t updated very early after the first event. The event suffered from the big lull effect, and a little controversy in the judging process by going silent for much too long after the first event ended. That may be the case again this year, but it’s still early to tell. They have to promote this event all year long. There is lots of education to be done about the event and the community.

I hope the organizers have learned something this year about the media. What was big news one year is old news or no news the next year. Next to Florence, SC’s newspaper, “Carolina Arts” is presenting more text and photos about this event than anyone else – more than just a few weeks of the year. It may not all be positive and smiley faces, but it’s coverage not many other media outlets are giving this event. So my advice to organizers is that they will have to work harder at getting their message in the media or spend more time telling their story through social media. And, I’m not talking about the slick video they made this year after the event which makes ArtFields look more like a community party than an art event. What I saw in that video wouldn’t make me travel to check out ArtFields in Lake City, SC, from Miami, FL. People can have a good time anywhere.

First Impressions

My first impression of ArtFields 2014 came from the online gallery of selected artists. And that impression was that the SC Arts Commission had a hand in recruiting artists to enter this event. And then there was the shot heard throughout academia. The fact that last year’s top winner was Jim Arendt, an art professor at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, brought entries from art professors throughout the region and especially South Carolina. As I checked out the bios it looked like university and college art professors got the impression that they could win $50,000 just by entering their work. Installation artists had also gotten the message that these folks wanted to be more like ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI – which now awards $400,000 in cash.

When I finally stepped into The R.O.B., the large warehouse building turned into an art gallery, my impression was confirmed – this building looked like one of the SC Arts Commission’s “Triennial” shows. So, I’m sure they were more involved in this year’s event, giving artists their seal of approval to enter and making contacts to artists telling them they should enter this competition. Funny thing though, not too long ago the Arts Commission was sending out the word that they didn’t see much value in juried exhibits without themes that only showed one work by artists. What changed their mind? I guess they were trying to warm themselves up to Darla Moore – probably looking for funding for one of their pet projects.

Of course, none of these professors were winners of the awards so I’m not sure they will be back next year, of course they could be back in full force.

Hannah L. Davis, Gallery Director at the Jones-Carter Gallery in Lake City, was the curator of the works presented in The R.O.B., all 102 of them, which was no easy task with all the different kinds of works included there. She did a great job of laying the works out in that space. During the two days that I visited ArtFields I must have toured this facility at least six times. This venue would have been worth seeing if there was nothing else offered at ArtFields. It also showed that the event was headed in the right direction, but… and it’s a big but – it all depends on what is entered and how far ArtFields reaches into the visual art communities of the 12 states from which artists can enter this competition.

Another point about The R.O.B. worth mentioning is that last year I said they needed to get rest rooms in that building. I may have overlooked it last year, but this year they had the fanciest outdoor rest rooms I’ve ever used. They were air-conditioned, had running water, flowers (although probably plastic ones) and artwork on the walls. And, no lines on the days I was there.


This year I got the opportunity to see more of the works being presented in the shops throughout Lake City. Some were no bigger than my bedroom. I think I saw about 90% of all works displayed in my two visits. I might have seen more except for a few basic problems – I had a May issue of “Carolina Arts” to finish, I like to talk with people in the visual art community and I ran into a lot of folks at ArtFields, even on a Monday and Thursday, and I don’t like trying to see works of art over people trying to eat their food in restaurants. Stepping into hair salons which emitted a certain smell didn’t bother me one bit, this paper got it’s beginnings in a broom closet inside a Charleston, SC, hair salon, but bothering people during their lunch or dinner is not something I like doing. I think it bothered a lot of other people and artists too, so I would recommend ArtFields rethinking that one.

I think most of the merchants did a great job of accommodating the artworks they selected to be in their shops and many were ready to act as tour guides. A few gave up more space than I might have as a business person and a few placed works in places too hard to get a good look at – most notably some were too high up the walls to even read the ID cards. I heard this complaint from a few artists as well, who say they won’t be returning next year. They may not enter the competition, but they have no way of knowing if they could even make the cut next year, so that complaint could be moot.

This work by Hirona Matsuda took up a lot of space at M & D Drug Company

Only a third of the folks who entered last year entered again this year, and ArtFields got about the same amount of entries (780), but I don’t think they can maintain that kind of turn over every year.

I know the idea behind ArtFields is to get people to come to Lake City and spend money, and to attract people to open new businesses there, but the organizers should never lose sight of the fact that it is a fine art event and they shouldn’t compromise the art in any situation over sales. An artist’s lounge with free snacks and drinks are not all it takes to keep artists happy. Believe me it takes much, much more. So keep that in mind.

I know this, I stepped into a lot of stores I wouldn’t even consider going into, even in downtown Charleston, to see what they had on display. So the overall concept works, but there has to be a happy medium between art and commerce.


Lake City also looked a lot more green and flowery. So ArtFields has helped spruce up a town that probably looked pretty brown a few years ago. Of course I wouldn’t know as I had no reason to check it out before 2013, and I have driven through Lake City on Hwy 52 many a time headed to Florence, SC, and back again. I’m actually looking forward to staying there overnight sometime in the future. A new 57 room hotel will be open on Main Street before ArtFields 2015 opens.


I had a great time riding the tour bus around Lake City and talking with the driver getting his impressions about this year compared to last year – sometimes riding when it was just me and the driver. Remember, I was there on a Monday and Thursday. Like they say – if you want to know what’s going on talk to a taxi driver, or in this case a bus driver. He was a great ambassador for Lake City. Shop owners, waitresses, and local reporters also gave me a better view of what was going on in many cases – much better than ArtFields’ staff members did. ArtFields runs a tight lipped ship in Lake City.

At some point while viewing art in the new shops on Main Street in Lake City I came up with what could be a subtitle to whatever I titled this blog. “Men of the Carolinas – Keep Your Women Away From Lake City, SC,” if you don’t, it’s going to cost you. Then I thought that would be a pretty chauvinistic thing to say, but it’s more a reflection of how this town has turned into a shopping haven – for mostly women and children. I just hope people come to Lake City throughout the rest of the year or some of these places might be closed by next year – unless their rent is being subsidized.

ArtFields hasn’t released any numbers yet on how many people they thought attended, how many registered to vote, how many people voted, and the number I’ve been waiting to hear since last year – how many votes the top winners received. So, I can’t say much about that. On a Monday and Thursday I couldn’t gage whether there were more people there than last year, but I did have several, of what I call Spoleto moments.

Sometimes in Charleston, SC, when the Spoleto Festival USA and the City’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival are going on it would take me 15 to 20 minutes to cross a street – the traffic was that bad. A few times on Main Street in Lake City, it took a good time to cross the street. Once I thought it would take forever, but a bus had to stop at the railroad tracks that cut Main Street in half, and it was just enough to cause a break in the traffic so I could cross. And that was on a Thursday.

This image was part of The Inside Out Project – Local Matters, showing the faces of the people who are making this all happen in Lake City

Some Bullet Points

I received a number of calls and e-mails asking me how a  number of boxes making sounds was a visual artwork? This was referring to the top prize, “Sun Boxes Mach II,” by Craig Colorusso of Rogers, AR. This was one of my favorite pieces and I voted for it. I explained that as this competition goes on they will see even more borderline works that won’t look like a sculpture or painting in this competition and it won’t be long before an artist enters a performance piece where they stand somewhere and create their one work of art during the event where they are the artwork or something like that.

“Sun Boxes Mach II,” by Craig Colorusso of Rogers, AR, not very visual

I also got asked how the jurors could select John Eric Riis’ work “Neoclassic Male and Female Tapestry” a diptych (meaning a two part work) and only buy have of it – the female part as the “second” juried “bonus” prize. I couldn’t answer that, but I think the fact that the work was priced at $50,000 and the award was for just $25,000 might tell you something about that.

In the case of Robert Snead, the artist who listed himself as from Charleston, SC, but now lives in New Orleans, LA, his work, “Family Dollar General Tree,” was listed as Not For Sale. I’m sure he didn’t turn his nose up to the “other” $25,000 Juror’s Choice award offered him. Or did he? Is listing a work NFS, ever really not for sale? Snead is from Charleston, but he doesn’t live their now, but I figure he did that to bank on attracting the local vote – for the People’s Choice award.

Which brings us to a trend which took place at ArtFields 2014, and that is “inflation”. A lot of artists heard that Darla Moore does some shopping during ArtFields, so many showed up with prices on works they only dream about at night. For a few, the big prices were their normal market price, but for many, they priced themselves out of making a sale or being selected (if that was a factor). What happens when a work is priced at $100,000 and the jurors want to make it the $50,000 prize? What does that say if the artist says I’ll take it and runs to the bank? What if the jurors pass it by and say too bad we can’t pick that one?

Let’s get real artists, ArtFields in not only an exhibition and a competition, but it is a sales opportunity. Darla Moore didn’t get rich overpaying for goods and services. Plus the odds are 22,000 to 1. There is only one Darla Moore and many more possible art buyers coming to see this exhibit. I didn’t know this and it wasn’t publicly promoted anywhere last year but apparently a lot of art was sold during the first ArtFields – something that should be promoted to the artists and the general public. I was told this year’s sales were down – I wonder why? While viewing this exhibit many others viewing the exhibit made funny remarks about the prices on the works. I hope artists get more realistic next year when it comes to pricing their works – for their own good.

The life-changing award of $50,000 is a lot for a top prize of a regular juried show. But for the type of artists ArtFields is hoping to attract to this event, it’s not that much money, especially when you have to give up your work if it is selected for one of the top awards. And, except for a few, it’s not going to be life-changing. If some of the artists had sold their works at the price they were asking – winning the top prize would have been a letdown. All works sold or that have a pending sale have to wait to see what the jurors pick first and it might not be too long before an artist turns down the top award to make a better sale.

Like I said last year – when dealing with artists you’ll find they are more complicated than the rest of us. They see things differently and it’s a good thing they do – most of the time.

Some artists told me they will keep trying to get into ArtFields – more for the exposure than the chance to win a top award. Some think the work they produce will never be selected by the jurors and they might be right, but they still want to be part of this event as they think one day it will be a major accomplishment to just get into the competition. There are other things to be gained by entering and getting it this exhibition. Our June 2014 issue of “Carolina Arts” will feature a work on the cover from ArtFields 2014. No big deal, but it’s something.

This year, there were 278 South Carolina artists accepted into ArtFields (64 from the Charleston area and 50 from the Columbia area) – 522 from SC sent in entries – that’s a 53% success ratio. Those numbers need to slow down in order for ArtFields to attract visitors from other states. I’m not saying the jurors have to limit how many works can be in the show from certain areas – the event needs to encourage more “excellent” works from the other 11 states. Eventually, down the road a ways, I think you could see that number shrink down to 50 – 100 from SC. And you’ll perhaps see 30 – 50 artists from each eligible state. That’s once the word gets out about the opportunities being offered artists by ArtFields. I was surprised how few were coming from North Carolina.

I heard that some locals were critical about the fact that only a few Lake City artists got in the event. I was surprised that a few I saw made the cut at all, and very soon the event might see fewer from the Pee Dee area of SC make the cut. Not that there isn’t talent in the Pee Dee, it’s just that the competition might get that rough. But, again it all depends on how well the event attracts top artists from other states. Maybe in the future there will be a side competition just open to local and regional artists – bigger than the Greater Lake City Artist Guild show presented at the ArtFields Gallery on Main Street. Remember the goal is to get outsiders – people who live far away from Lake City – to come to Lake City.

The new handout explaining ArtFields was an improvement, as was the 64 page competition catalog you only received once you registered to vote. That was a good idea, but I’m not sure it will help get people to register to vote and then actually vote. The numbers on that haven’t been released yet. The Artist’s Gallery on the ArtFields’ website is the most informative resource, offering larger images of artworks and artist’s bios.

A lot of education and promotion that ArtFields is a competition determined – mostly – by the public voting on their favorite works has to be done. I kept hearing the mantra from staff members that people keep telling them – they just want to look at the art – not vote on it. It’s tough turning some bystanders into participants.

The worst thing I heard at ArtFields was that folks from Hilton Head Island, SC, came this year to Lake City talking about the fact that they were thinking of launching their own Art??? – something. This would be a shame and dilute both events. This is what happened with the Art Walk craze – everyone has one now and nothing is special about them anymore.

What’s going to bring folks to Lake City in between ArtFields each year? Well, the Jones-Carter Gallery will help with that, offering excellent exhibits, and if someone could do a better job of publicity on what the ArtFields Gallery is offering – that would help too (and Saturday hours). A new commercial art learning center/gallery opened on Main Street six months ago, named Olio Studio – this will also help, but they’re going to need something more. Maybe an upscale concert series or music festival would help keep a spotlight on Lake City – bringing in upscale cultural visitors. But they’re going to need something to build tourism traffic in Lake City all year long.

Finally, I think ArtFields should consider pulling the event back into April and stay away from the month of May – too many other visual art events are taking place during the first part of May. I think it cost them in attendance and media coverage. I’d head more for the middle of April.

OK – that’s enough from me until the numbers come in, which I hope doesn’t take too long.

I posted a number of images of art on display at ArtFields on Facebook at Tom Starland.

If you want to learn more about ArtFields – as an artist or as a possible visitor – visit ( of keep up with “Carolina Arts” at (

SC Arts Commission Saved Again, But Just Barely – the 2012 Version

Monday, July 30th, 2012


I think the first paragraph of the article written by Otis R. Taylor, Jr. in The State newspaper after the big rally says it all.

“The State House was under an umbrella of creativity Monday evening as hundreds of arts supporters met on the grounds to oppose Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of the South Carolina Arts Commission budget.”

You can read the whole article at this link (

Even Columbia’s Free Times newspaper reported that only “hundreds flocked to the State House for a colorful pro-arts rally”.

A Facebook event page was created, Rally for the Arts – Support the SC Arts Commission, which invited 13,327 Facebook members (people involved with the arts in SC) to join in, yet only 1,688 “claimed” they would show up at the rally, while 578 others said – maybe. Yet only hundreds showed up.

Some will say the weather kept people away, but if I was the Arts Commission I wouldn’t want to count on my fair-weather friends to save me again and again, as this battle over the Arts Commission’s future isn’t over.

The main point here is – the SC Arts Commission was never in real danger of being eliminated – it was all a bunch of political show.

Our Tea-Bagger Governor wants to eliminate the Arts Commission altogether, which is wrong, but the Legislature has other plans. The House lawmakers approved a bill that would have moved the Arts Commission into the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, much like the way North Carolina handles its arts agency, but the Senate did not vote on the bill. Hopefully that will happen this next session and the Arts Commission will be reorganized with a different mission, some different staff members, and hopefully not many of the Commission’s “rubber stamp” board members – if any.

The Governor claims that the Arts Commission’s overhead is too high and I hate to have to agree with her on that point. I couldn’t begin to explain what 20 staff members do on a daily basis at the Arts Commission. And, their expenses do seem to be out of whack for an agency with such a small budget – under $4 million this year. They even had to move the agency into cheaper digs this year to stay under the 30 percent overhead mandated last year by the Legislature. And, the Governor is not happy about the executive director, Ken May’s salary – $91,664 a year. Which does seem high for an agency with such a small budget.

I looked at some other SC State agency’s budgets and pay their executives get and I was a little surprised. Take the Sea Grant Consortium, which was also on the Gov’s chopping block. They have a $6 million budget, but their executive director is only making $83,408. This agency has the same number of employees, a bigger budget, but the top person makes less money.

The head of the Budget and Control Board makes $173,380, but that agency deals with almost $1/2 billion and the head of the Department of Transportation which deals in billions only makes $146,000. Wouldn’t you think an executive’s salary would have some relationship to their budget?

I’d say Ken May’s salary is a big part of the Arts Commission’s overhead – in relation to it’s budget. Is it too much? I know a smaller salary would mean more funding for arts projects.

I’ve heard some talk that the Legislature is thinking about an audit of the Arts Commission which may revel more about where the money is going. That might clear the air some, but I would prefer they get on with the business of re-organizing state government before our Governor comes up with some new ideas about pleasing her Tea Bag supporters. She might start giving the Arts Commission’s board the Darla Moore treatment.

So who showed up at the big rally? Mostly people from Columbia. And, I’m not surprised about that. They are close to the Arts Commission – a centralized agency based in Columbia with no branches in other areas of the state. These were the people who see the Arts Commission staff at their performances, their exhibits, and in the grocery stores and restaurants of Columbia.

Here’s an example of how Columbia oriented the control of the arts are in South Carolina. Take a look at the SC Arts Foundation who the Arts Commission is in “partnership” with – sharing address, staff and phone numbers, but are totally separate – so they say.

The South Carolina Arts Foundation Board of Directors 2011-2012

Michel G. Moore, Columbia, President
Debra Timmerman, Charlotte, Vice President
Childs Cantey Thrasher, Columbia, Vice President
Jeffry C. Caswell, Columbia, Treasurer
Victoria Hollins, Columbia, Secretary
Patrick R. Van Huss, Columbia, Immediate Past President
Miller G. Bannister, Columbia
Gloria M. Bell, Charleston
Maryanne Belser, Columbia
Jerelyn “Jeri” Boysia, Columbia
Eric Brown, Greenville
J. Ashley Cooper, Charleston
Fannie I. “Judy” Cromwell, Greenville
Beryl Dakers, Columbia
James M. Dedman, IV, Greenville
Chandra Foster, Fort Mill
Shani Gilchrist, Columbia
Sarah Lynn Hayes, Rock Hill – Ex Officio
Robert Hoak, Greenville
Pamela L. Jenkins, Columbia
Robin Leverton, Beaufort
Ken May, Columbia – Ex Officio (Non-Voting)
J. Michael McCabe, Columbia
Rhett Outten, Mt. Pleasant
Donna Pullen, West Columbia
Ruth Rast, Columbia
Peggy Reynolds, Beaufort
Elizabeth Sowards, Chapin – Ex Officio
Linda C. Stern, Columbia
Leo F. Twiggs, Orangeburg
Bhavna Vasudeva, Columbia
John Whitehead, Columbia

All but one officer is from Columbia. Out of 32 members, 18 are from Columbia (more than half the board), 4 are from Greenville, 3 from the Charleston area, 2 from the Rock Hill area, 2 from Beaufort, 1 from Orangeburg, 1 from Chapin, and 1 from Charlotte, NC (?). I’d like to hear the story of why one of the members lives in Charlotte, NC.

There are no members from North Charleston (3rd largest city in SC), Spartanburg, Aiken, Florence, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Sumter or any of the smaller communities in the state – other than Chapin, which is just outside of Columbia. Why are so many from Columbia?

Of course many of these same folks jump back and forth from the board of the Arts Commission to the board of the SC Arts Foundation – and back again. I can’t remember when a few of these folks haven’t been on one or the other of the boards.

It’s no wonder there weren’t rallies all over the state to save the Arts Commission or people traveling from far ends of the state to the rally in Columbia. The representation isn’t there for the whole state. And, for many around the state like me – we didn’t notice a thing different when the Arts Commission was shut down and won’t notice a thing now that their doors are open again. The Arts Commission isn’t there for us – they’re only there for non-profits and a few individuals.

South Carolina needs to continue to support the arts with our tax dollars, but we also need to shake things up and re-organize the arts structure in the state and change some of the faces in control. We are way behind our neighbor to the North in making the arts a productive part of our state’s economy (at the bank – not just on paper) – and not just thought of as a burden.

Let’s hope the Legislature does something soon.

Has Hell Frozen Over or What?

Monday, July 9th, 2012


As I post this entry today, the South Carolina Arts Commission has been shut down. Am I celebrating? I wish. Due to a fluke in the legislative calendar our Governor’s token veto to please her Tea Bagger friends has caused a closing of the Arts Commission – just as long as it takes the SC Legislature time to re-convene and override the token veto.

So for a week or a little longer, the SC Arts Commission will be shut down. Is this the end of the arts in South Carolina? Hardly – most won’t notice a difference. Sure, those folks who receive funding from the Arts Commission or hope to one day will cry and claim that this is the end of all arts in SC.

Am I against public funding for the arts? No! I never have been. I just don’t like the way the folks at the SC Arts Commission operate in what they say is their mission – to foster and support the arts in SC. It they did that, I’d be one of their biggest supporters. But they don’t do that – they never have. What they do is pick and choose who and what they want to support as if they know better and they manipulate others involved in the arts by pulling the strings of support in the form of funding. You do what they want, the way they tell you – or no funding for you.

What I’ve always wanted to see done with the SC Arts Commission is to have it torn down and rebuilt to be an agency that helps all in the arts. An agency that acts as a supporter not a dictator. An agency that doesn’t say we can’t because others don’t. An agency that is a true friend of the arts, not in many cases an enemy.

When I say I don’t care for them – don’t worry – the feeling is mutual. If they are still around the day we come to an end – they will be celebrating.

When people remark to us – thanks for all you do for the arts – I wonder how can that be true, what do they mean by that? How could we be helpful to the arts -we’re not sanctioned by the Arts Commission?

I mean think about it – when the state agency dealing with the arts won’t send us the press releases they send out to other media – because we might not agree with something in it or question something and dare to say so – that should show you we’re not helpful – we’re something to be avoided. Their policy is you’re either with them or against them. That’s a helpful attitude to have as a state agency. An agency created to serve the citizens of SC.

If it sounds like I want a piece of the pie or this is sour grapes as I can’t ever have a piece of the pie, you’re missing the point. We’ve existed for 25 years without their money and will for many more without it. Have there been things we could have accomplished with public funding – yes, and there are hundreds of projects that could also do wonders with public funding, but they won’t ever happen – while many more get funding and accomplish nothing more than supporting – supporters.

If you want an example of what I’m talking about, here’s one. Many years ago artists complained that there weren’t enough critical reviews being done in SC. There still aren’t. We talked with folks at the Arts Commission about setting up a program where they would pay writers directly for doing reviews that we would include in our paper – providing more reviews. They said this would not be possible as this would be a benefit to us – that we might profit from it. That is forbidden. I had to scratch my head in thinking how we would benefit – the paper is free, only the writers would be paid and we would have to cover the cost of the space we would be giving up in the paper that could otherwise be used to sell ads. How was I going to profit from that? We can’t afford to do this on our own – so nothing is accomplished toward solving this problem. Although they did do the same thing giving thousands of dollars to a publication coming out of Chicago to do the same thing – only not many people in SC ever saw that publication. But, that paper was a non-profit so it was OK to throw that money down the drain.

My point all along is that the majority of the successful parts of the greater art community lies in the commercial side of the arts. When you see surveys that talk about how many jobs are created and the economic impact of the arts – the majority of those figures are counted from businesses dealing in the arts – not non-profit arts groups. Non-profits in the arts generate few jobs and fewer profits. If they did, they wouldn’t be so worried about losing their meager public funding, which most of the time has to be matched by funding from other sources. Other sources who would probably give them funding – if they felt the group was serving the community.

No non-profit in SC exists solely on the money they receive from the SC Arts Commission.

But, the SC Arts Commission and the folks who do get funding from them would like you to believe that without the SC Arts Commission and the funding they provide to select groups – all arts in SC would shrivel up and die. That notion is so funny it hurts to think about it. Would we stop? No! Would art galleries close up? No! Would creative people stop creating? No! Would some people be out of a meal ticket? Yes! If the art welfare stopped coming – some folks would have to find something else to do. And, in most of those cases they would have to find something they are better at than what they are doing now to survive.

So, am I celebrating the Governor’s little victory over the SC Arts Commission? No, not at all. Will I lift a finger to help save them when they’re not really in jeopardy? No. Do I wish our state would do something better to help the arts and help our state profit more from a stronger cultural industry? Yes! Yes I do. Am I hopeful? No. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be back to the same old thing.  Yay, SC.

SC Arts Commission in Columbia, SC, Announces FY2012 Artist Fellowships

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

A Little Commentary on this Announcement

I have no problem with these selections – I think they’re both great, but I’ve got a few problems with the process. First, I’m not sure if the problem is that so few artists are applying for these fellowships or if it’s the fact that the same people keep applying for it, but it’s a shame with so many talented artists in this state that we have repeat winners. Also, I don’t think the Arts Commission should have people with close ties to SC’s art community on the selection panel.

But, why beat a dead horse. Nothing will change while the same folks are in charge.

Here’s the press release – I added the images of work by each artist. I guess the Arts Commission thinks photos of the artists are more important than examples of their work.


The South Carolina Arts Commission Board in Columbia, SC, has awarded Individual Artist Fellowships to two South Carolina visual artists in the categories of visual arts and craft. Each artist receives $5,000.

This year’s fellows are:
Visual Arts: Jonathan Brilliant, Richland County
Craft: Russell Biles, Greenville County

“The arts, and all the benefits they bring, depend on capable artists, who are central to the creative industries in our state,” said SC Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May. “The fellowships offer resources that artists can use to advance their careers. We’re fortunate to have funds to award thanks to a generous contribution from the South Carolina Arts Foundation.”

The SC Arts Commission board approves fellowships based on recommendations made by out-of-state review panelists, who select fellows based solely on a review of anonymous work samples. The visual arts and craft panelists were: Rene Barilleaux, chief curator/curator of art after 1945, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; Lia Rose Newman, director of programs and exhibitions, Artspace, Inc, Raleigh, NC; and Miguel Gomez-Ibanez, president, North Bennet Street School, Boston.

The South Carolina Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the education and arts development programs of the SC Arts Commission, funded three of the four fellowships awarded this year (two others in Music). Individual artists working in poetry, prose, dance performance and dance choreography can apply for the 2012-2013 fellowship awards. The deadline to apply is Nov. 1, 2011.

FY2012 SC Arts Commission Artist Fellows’ Biographies

Jonathan Brilliant, Richland County – Visual Arts Fellow


Jonathan Brilliant holds a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from the College of Charleston and a Master of Fine Arts in Spatial Arts from San Jose State University. He has served as a visiting artist and artist-in-residence for numerous communities, schools and universities, including the Ox-Bow School of Art, the Penland School of Crafts, Redux Contemporary Art Center, University of Oklahoma, University of Memphis, and recently for the East/West Project in Berlin, Germany. In 2007, Brilliant was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation fellowship to attend the Vermont Studio Center. In 2009 he received the juror’s award at the National Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition and was named a South Carolina Arts Commission Visual Arts Fellow alternate. Brilliant creates compositional elements by weaving, welding and stacking various mediums, including such re-purposed coffee shop items as stirrers, lids and cups. From May 2009 – December 2010 he conducted his “Have Sticks Will Travel World Tour,” a series of site-specific installations in 13 galleries on two continents. In September 2010, Brilliant was named the winner of the Columbia Design League’s inaugural “Play With Your City” public art competition. In addition to site-specific installations, Brilliant works with drawing, sculpture and photography and lectures at universities across the country.

Russell Biles, Greenville County – Craft Fellow


Russell Biles received his Bachelor of Visual Arts in Sculpture from Winthrop University. His works have been displayed throughout the Southeast and are in collections from Arizona to the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Described as a “sculptural satirist,” Biles focuses on culture’s obsession with celebrity to engage his audience. His works range from 1 to 10 feet in scale and have been featured in many national publications, including American Craft and The Ceramic Narrative. Biles received the Juror’s Choice Award for his work, “The Red Clay Survey,” at the Huntsville Museum of Art in 1994 and was named a South Carolina Arts Commission Visual Arts Fellow in 2001. He continues to serve the arts community by doing commissioned work and providing workshops, school residencies, master classes and other educational programs. In September, his work will be displayed in “Contradictions,” an exhibition at the Mindy Solomon Gallery in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The South Carolina Arts Commission is the state agency charged with creating a thriving arts environment that benefits all South Carolinians, regardless of their location or circumstances. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants and leadership initiatives in three areas: arts education, community arts development and artist development. Headquartered in Columbia, SC, the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources.

For more information, visit ( or call 803/734-8696.

Why Did the SC Legislature Pass a Law Making the SC Arts Commission Spend 70% of Its Funding on Grants to SC’s Art Community?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011


So, why exactly did the SC Legislature have to pass a law demanding that the SC Arts Commission spend 70% of its state funding on grants? Why did they have to write that stipulation into law? Could it be that the Arts Commission was spending more on themselves than they were giving out in grants to other arts organizations?

Over the years I have pointed out that the SC Arts Commission, the cat with nine lives, was one of the largest state arts agencies in the country – much bigger than state art agencies in our region. Yes, they may be a lot leaner today than they used to be, but the Arts Commission is still a bloated agency which carries an expensive overhead. I’m led to understand that this 70% restriction will mean some folks at the Arts Commission will lose their jobs, which I feel sorry for, especially in these times, but this agency has brought all their current problems down on themselves.

Over my 25 + years in following the arts in this state I have always wondered what all these people are doing when I can see so little results in the general art community that they contribute – other than handing out money to their friends. They can go on and on in reports they write themselves, about all they are doing and what they have accomplished each year, and their fans – mostly people who receive funding and awards from them, will back up those self-preformed pats on their back.

Look, I’m for government funded art. You don’t see me railing against the NC Arts Council or the NEA. My problem is with the SC Arts Commission and their version of what serving the arts community means – serve yourself first – then the art community.

The truth is in the numbers. And, these are the latest numbers available from the SC Comptroller General’s office. These are some of the expenses of the SC Arts Commission – mostly their overhead in distributing funding to the people who do the real arts in our state. These numbers are from FY 2009-2010, not that long ago. Current numbers are not available – I wonder why.

Equipment – $5,076

Membership fees, rentals and rent – $347,565
(of which $268,507 is for rent of their building) I would have thought they could have purchased a building in the Vista years ago with that kind of rent.

Utilities – $42,869

Personal Services – $1,115,415
(On this item I know fewer people are there now working at the Arts Commission since 2009-2010, but here are some of the latest figures on salaries of just six employees who make over $50,000 – the limit where the State has to tell you what they’re being paid. This does not include State benefits.)

Figures as of May 13, 2011

Ken May – $91,664.00
Harriett Green – $55,284.00
Charles “Rusty” Cox – $54,596.00
Susan Duplessis – $51,854.00
Clay Burnett – $51,560.00
Joy Young – $50,609.00
(These six salaries total $355,567 and there could be 20 more people who make around $40,000.00 each if not more.)

Supplies & Materials – $23,997
($3,020 of that was postage, but I can’t imagine what they are mailing with the invention of e-mail.)

Transportation – $68

Travel – $27,568
(Now here’s a category that should be totally gone after last year’s cut-backs where the agency said it would do no more travel, but let’s see where some of this was going: $1,995 for in-state lodging; $10,441 for non-state employee travel; $903 for out of state lodging; $8,982 for leasing of state-owned cars; etc.)

The total of these expenses I’ve listed is $1,562,558.00. And, I didn’t list all the categories offered as I didn’t totally understand them, but that’s $1.5 million in overhead already – just to say we have an arts agency.

Salaries, rents and utilities don’t go away – so depending on what their budget allocation is from year to year (FY 2012 – the state budget for them is $1.9 million) it makes a big difference what’s left over each year, even when you throw in Federal monies, when so much has to come off the top on July 1 – every year. And, what do we get – an agency who decides who gets the rest of the money in the arts community or more like who won’t.

I think the SC Arts Commission has been consuming close to 50% of its budget by just existing.

The Arts Commission was also telling the public that it will also lose $250,000 the state appropriated last year in one-time stimulus funds, for a total year-to-year reduction of 16% in state appropriations. Again – they don’t seem to understand what a one-time thing is. You only get it once – you don’t get to then say the next year that  money is being cut from your budget this year. It was a one-time deal, get over it.

So in summation, I think the 70% clause was written into the law to force the SC Arts Commission to get lean like the rest of us have had to and make them spend the bulk of their budget on money for artists and arts groups – not themselves.

Don’t feel sorry for them yet, the alternative was no agency at all and they will still get their hands on $1.3 million from the Feds, which I’m sure has less restrictions on it. We all know how well the Federal government keeps track of our money.

So, the real question of the day is: Does the law mean that the SC Arts Commission has to make sure 70% of its total budget (including Federal money) has to go to grants or does it just mean 70% of what the State of SC has given them? And, what restrictions does the Federal money have on it? Where was it intended to go and to whom?

Because 30% of $1.9 million is $570,000 and the top six employees are paid $355,567 – that doesn’t leave enough to pay the rent on the building ($268,507) those six people would be rattling around in. So unless there is some slight of hand at work here or they can use that Federal money for whatever – there is either going to be a caretaker staff at the Arts Commission outnumbered by the Commissioners or the real arts providers in SC are going to get screwed again by the Arts Commission skimming off that Federal money.

And as long as the State of SC allows the Arts Commission to report on themselves without any audits – who’s to know where that money really goes.

I’m glad I’m not part of a non-profit that is hoping for a decent piece of the pie. If the next time you see someone from the Arts Commission and they have cherry pie all over their face – well, oh my.

The link to the SC Comptroller General’s office for the SC Arts Commission’s 2009 – 2010 expenses – their overhead before grants are given are at ( Then just click Annual Summary and then select the year and the SC Arts Commission. You may even want to look back over time to see where all its money has been going.

No pie for you!

SC Art Commission Dangles Carrot in Front of SC Legislators and Funding Recipients

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011


The SC Arts Commission posted pending FY 2012 grants numbers, “early”, to show SC Legislators how much money their districts would loose in arts funding before they decide if they will override an expected veto of arts funding by our Governor, who has promised her Tea Party friends to veto any funding for the arts.

Grant awards are usually announced in July after the beginning of the new year funding cycle, but I guess the Commission felt a need to show them early so those who would receive them could carry their fight to their legislators.

It makes me wonder what the folks at the Arts Commission are doing besides trying to stay alive. It doesn’t seem like they’ve been doing anything else for the last 3-4 months.

I’m having a hard time deciding who is worse for the arts in our state – our Governor or the SC Arts Commission. It really seems to be a toss up. No wait – they’re both bad for SC.

What ever happens – next year lets hope for reconstruction – putting a new arts agency under SC PRT.

How Much Do SC’s Public Workers Get Paid?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011


I was surfing through The State newspaper (online version) in Columbia, SC, as I do many Carolina newspapers keeping up with what’s going on and I noticed a headline which has probably been there for months, but for some reason caught my eye today. The headline was, “How much do SC’s public workers get paid?”.

The State offers a date base ( of what some State employees make each year. This database contains names, positions and salaries of state government employees making $50,000 or more a year in base salary, as furnished by the agencies in response to SC Freedom of Information Act requests. I just had to look and then I wished I didn’t. And as far as I know, these salaries do not include the value of State benefits and other perks (use of cars, travel expenses, etc.) given to these employees.

Here’s the question. Should Ken May, head of the SC Arts Commission make $91,664.009 a year?

That’s almost as much money as our new Governor was paid to raise funds for a Columbia hospital – another headline story in The State( According to The State, the not yet Governor was hired as a fundraiser by Lexington Medical Center in August 2008, a position created for her at a $110,000-a-year salary, which she held until April 2010 – although the not yet Governor had no experience as a fundraiser – other than being a politician. But that’s no big deal – lots of people in SC government are given important jobs with no experience.

Now, I’m going on record here. Ken May thinks of me as his nemesis. So I guess wondering if the job he is doing is worth $91,664.009 – it could be considered another poke at him and the SC Arts Commission.

But, I’m also wondering if Harriett Green, visual arts coordinator, should make $55,284.009 a year? I’m not sure that’s the kind of money anyone should be paid for moving a few exhibits (the same exhibits) around the state from year to year. So, it’s not just about Ken May.

Of course I guess these salaries are based on the old SC Arts Commission – the one that had twice the budget a few years ago – compared to the new Commission which will get smaller and smaller over the next few years – it not disappearing all together. And, I wonder how they figure in the .9 cents?

And, folks don’t forget – a smaller budget at the SC Arts Commission means smaller grant funds to groups and artists and smaller services rendered – but it seems the salaries… Well, maybe they’re less than what they used to be? Isn’t that how it works – the less money you have (I can’t say make) the less money you get?

Well, anyway – I wish I hadn’t clicked that link at The State. I was much happier not knowing. How about you?

Nina Liu and Friends Gallery in Charleston, SC, Receives Verner Award from SC Arts Commission/Foundation

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Nina Liu outside her gallery and friend Aggie Zed (r)

OK, this is meant to be a congratulation to Nina Liu – make no mistake about that, but it is also about the SC Arts Commission and SC Arts Foundation.

I think everyone would agree that in these days of cutbacks in funding for the arts it would have been better to make the announcement of who will receive these awards and let UPS deliver them, but instead the folks at the Arts Commission/Foundation decided to play their fiddle while Rome burns. And, they’re letting visual artists have the honor of helping them raise money to put on a party, through another art auction.

If you’re of my thinking on all of this – would we expect anything else? Yes, this is exactly what I’ve come to expect from them. But, like they say – even a broken clock gets it right twice a day.

So, congratulations to Nini Liu, the woman behind Nina Liu & Friends gallery in Charleston, SC. She has served artists and the art community in Charleston for 25 years as well as doing the same in Iowa, Louisiana, California, and Michigan, before landing here in South Carolina.

Liu has been a long-time supporter of Shoestring Publishing Company, including Charleston Arts, South Carolina Arts and now Carolina Arts. She helped start the French Quarter Gallery Association, providing coordinated art walks in Charleston. We worked with her and others to make it the largest art walk in the Carolinas. Now everyone has one.

And, I know she has done a lot to help other art organizations such as the Gibbes Museum of Art, College of Charleton School of the Arts, and Spoleto Festival USA, to name a few. But most importantly for me, she has been a regular sounding board – I rarely travel to Charleston without stopping to have a short or sometimes long conversation with her.

I’m glad she got her Verner before I told that to everyone.

So, Nina Liu and her gallery will share the spotlight at the 2011 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts (Business Category) with Carolina First Bank of Greenville, SC – that’s if our new Governor doesn’t want to take back her title from the award. I doubt she’ll show up to hand the awards out – that would seem a little hypocritical, but maybe she will- it wouldn’t be the first time for her.

As far as the other Verner Award recipients – I don’t know who most of them are – which is the way I would guess others around SC would think when they read Nina Liu’s name. I’m sure they have had similar impacts on the communities where they live – or at least we would all expect that they do or did. It helps to think of these things as regional awards to folks who have had some impact on a regional basis. Yet, I can’t help but think that some awards over the years and this year (hopefully very few of them) are self-serving by the Arts Commission – rewards to a few good friends of theirs.

All I know is – we could all use a lot more Nina Lius as friends.

South Carolina Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts Forms to Help SC’s Artists

Monday, October 25th, 2010

It’s good to see that the SC Arts Commission is finally getting around to providing SC’s artists a service that has been in NC for over 20 years. North Carolina Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is a network of lawyers in North Carolina with experience in art law issues. Find info at this link.

Although I had to get the info from a third party involved – not the SC Arts Commission, I don’t mind saying this is a good thing.

Better late than never, but pretty late compared to our neighbors – who they always say they try to work in conjunction with.

Here’s the info:

The University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia, SC, has partnered with area arts organizations to give them and the low-income artists they represent a new resource for legal assistance.

The South Carolina Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts will offer an online service that provides pro-bono assistance to the arts community.

This new resource is available at (

The SCVLA is a project of the school’s Pro Bono Program and Nonprofit Organizations Clinic, as well as the SC Arts Commission and the SC Bar Pro Bono Program. It refers those needing legal assistance to lawyers who have agreed to donate their time.

“This collaboration has been in the works for many years,” said Ken May, executive director at the SC Arts Commission. “We’re proud to see that it has come to fruition and is now providing the South Carolina arts community with this valuable service.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the law school to expand its relationship with the communities surrounding it,” said Walter F. Pratt Jr., dean of the School of Law. “Building on our nationally known Pro Bono Program, this new venture will allow even more students to learn the value of service to their community while, at the same time, acquiring skills that will make them better lawyers in the future.”

The service uses an online application system to gather facts from artists and arts organizations to match them with appropriate legal representation. SCVLA, cannot assign an attorney to a specific client, nor can it assist all clients. Some clients may be referred to an attorney outside the program.

Artists and arts organizations seeking legal advice or lawyers interested in volunteering their service can visit ( to complete an online application.

Kentucky Artisan Center Goes Extra Miles for Kentucky’s Visual Artists

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

It’s funny how you can run into something that takes on a life of its own. That’s what happened when I wrote a story about a visit to the Kentucky Artisan Center on my way to Michigan this summer. Ever since I wrote that entry, readers have been e-mailing me about items relating to that story. First, it was about TAMARACK: The Best of West Virginia, an artisan center in Beckley, WV, and then a Charleston, SC, on-line publication,, asked if I would write up my idea of a SC artisan center at the intersection of I-26 and I-95, and now an artist in Kentucky who came across the story sent me a link to an article in The Richmond Register about the Kentucky Artisan Center setting up a satellite gallery in Lexington, KY, for a big event. It seems there is no limit to what the Kentucky Artisan Center or State of Kentucky will go to in helping Kentucky’s artists.


It would be nice to see some of that here in SC. Wouldn’t it be nice if the SC Arts Commission or the state of SC would open an artisan center in Charleston, SC, during the run of the Spoleto Festival USA each year – showcasing our artists to that audience? At least that is cheaper than building an artisan center.

You can read the article in at this link.

You can read my last entry on this issue at this link.

Here’s the article that was in The Richmond Register.

Here’s the newspaper article:

Artisan Center to open store at WEG – September 20, 2010


BEREA — For the first time, visitors will be able to shop at a Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea store in Lexington. The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea will showcase the creative works of over 400 of its Kentucky artisans in a satellite store created for The Kentucky Experience complex at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park from Sept. 25 through Oct. 10.


Housed inside the Kentucky Proud Product Pavilion, which is one of three buildings that make up The Kentucky Experience complex, this satellite store will be a smaller version of the center’s main facility off I-75 in Berea, but will look and feel very much the same.

Showcased in the store will be a wide range of Kentucky artisan works including pottery, jewelry, woodworking, baskets and fiber art; two-dimensional art such as paintings, prints, photography and note cards; books by Kentucky authors, beauty products and home furnishings and a selection of Kentucky music and Kentucky Proud food products.


The Kentucky Artisan Center Satellite Store will include over 2,000 products created by 400 Kentucky artisans from over 140 Kentucky communities in more than 85 counties. The store will be open daily from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. except for Sept. 25, when it will be open until 10 p.m., Oct. 5 when it will close at 5:30 p.m. and Oct.10 when it will close at 5 p.m. This store is one of many areas the public can visit with a General Admission ticket.

The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea also is presenting at this location, demonstrations and book signings by Kentucky artisans, and the Kentucky Proud program is presenting food samplings daily. These events are scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Kentucky Proud Product Pavilion.

“We are excited to have this opportunity to introduce Kentuckians and visitors from around the world to the creative works being made by the state’s talented artisans,” said Victoria Faoro, Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea Executive Director. “We hope that people attending the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will visit the Kentucky Experience complex to enjoy all that Kentucky has to offer, and shop in the Artisan Center at Berea’s Satellite Store in the Kentucky Proud Product Pavilion— to take home wonderful Kentucky artisan-made products.”

Throughout the games, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea will also be open regular hours at its Berea location at 975 Walnut Meadow Road, just off I-75 at exit 77. The center’s exhibits, shopping and travel information areas are open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the café is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The center features works by more than 650 artisans from 100 counties across the commonwealth.

For information, call 859/985-5448 or visit the center’s website at (