Posts Tagged ‘Wragg Square’

A First Look at the Two Big 2011 Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibits at Marion Square Park and Wragg Square in Charleston, SC

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011


By late Saturday, May 28, 2011, we had the June 2011 issue of Carolina Arts almost in the can, so Sunday morning – after we found out that Linda, my better half wasn’t going to have to go in to work on one of her days off, we decided to go down to Charleston and catch a few of the exhibits being presented by Piccolo Spoleto. She was on call Sunday, but because it was a holiday weekend – no one was going to call out on Sunday. You don’t get paid the extra holiday pay if you miss the day before. Such is the life of a 911 dispatcher.

We got a good start and found a fairly good parking space by about 10:30am. We didn’t expect that the Charleston Farmers Market was going to be operating on Sunday, but I guess everyone wants a piece of the Spoleto/Piccolo action. Money is the mother’s milk of the arts and when it comes to selling an opportunity for anyone to get in on the action – the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, who organizes the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, turns down no opportunity that will put money in their pocket or the pockets of their friends (those special arts groups). I truly expect to see beer vendors roaming the streets of Charleston during the festivals one day. More in character you’ll probably see wine vendors as a tie-in with the Charleston Food & Wine Festival.

I can hear them calling now – “Got your chardonnay here!”

So on that morning, we had to vie for parking with 3-4 church congregations, the Farmer’s Market crowd and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival crowd for a parking space. But, we did all right.

Actually, I think the Farmer’s Market is a plus – they provide the opportunity to purchase readily available food and beverages, with some musical entertainment thrown in. And, I guess every penny the City can generate in vendor fees is less that they’ll have to take from taxpayers. Some might think the arts and craft vendors at the Farmer’s Market might be competition, but the buyer makes that decision.


The minute we hit the 2011 Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibit in Marion Square Park, we started to hear how the Office of Cultural Affairs had messed this show up. They have been trying to take total control of this show for years and this year was another bungled attempt at redesigning the show.

To make a long story short, one of the core aspects of this show is that it has had some of the same artists showing in a particular part of the park for years. People who attend the festivals every year know where their favorite artist is located. The artists who have been in certain spots have made close friendships with their neighboring artists.

This year the Office of Cultural Affairs decided that no artists would be “grand-fathered” in and all would have to go through a jury process to get in. What that jury process is and who does it would be one of the biggest blogs I’ve ever written, but we’re not going into that now. So some artists felt unwanted and didn’t go through the process. The jury cut was made and then all hell broke loose and some went to Mayor Joe Riley and complained and as usual he undercut his staff and reinstated the artists who had been cut, except for those who made other plans or didn’t go through the jury process – they were just screwed – twice.


Funny thing – many of the artists who were cut in the jury process won awards from the hand-picked juror Cultural Affairs selected. In fact, the Mayor’s Purchase Award was by an artist who was originally cut from the show. Go figure.

On top of that, Cultural Affairs decided to split these established neighborhoods up and shuffled the deck. So, now visitors to the show have to go on a scavenger hunt to find their favorite artists. It’s a real mess. No one likes change – especially change that isn’t an improvement.

The Office of Cultural Affairs reminds me of the Army Corp. of Engineers. Is there anything they haven’t made worse after trying to fix something?

So many of the artists are not happy campers and if this show is another ho hum year, as far as sales go, they are really going to be unhappy. This could be the last year for some – but that’s exactly what some people may want.

My suspicion is that the Office of Cultural Affairs, headed up by Ellen Dressler Moryl, has been looking at the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibitas their future cash cow. I think they envision selling the spaces in the park for $1000 a pop to artists from around the country who would love to be associated with the Spoleto/Piccolo Festivals. They would learn really quickly that visitors to Charleston wouldn’t be interested in artwork made in Santa Fe, Carmel, or Sarasota – they want Lowcountry art. But, it might take them a year or two to learn that and there would always be a new crop of unknowing artists willing to put up a $1000 for the opportunity. The catch is – Mayor Riley promised the local art community that Piccolo would be for them, but the festival has had mission creep in becoming a regional affair – some participants come from way beyond our region.

Now, I’m not saying that this show doesn’t have it’s problems and couldn’t use some shaking up – there is a lot of repetition – artists painting the same landscapes and wildlife scenes. But instead of trying to tear down long standing traditions, why doesn’t Cultural Affairs start a new outdoor art venue – maybe one for emerging artists, just on weekends and in a way that the artists don’t have to make such an investment. Those tents are expensive.

If out-of-state visual artists want a crack at the Festival, set them up in Hampton Park or Liberty Park by the SC Aquarium – the hottest spot in town. But stop messing with the Outdoor Art Exhibit.

It has been rumored that Ellen Dressler Moryl will soon retire and then turn around and become a paid contractor to manage Piccolo Spoleto. What a sweet deal for her. But unless the City is planning on sub-contracting out the whole Office of Cultural Affairs – I can’t see a new head of Cultural Affairs putting up with their biggest plum being outsourced. And, why should the City pay her when she’s not an employee of the City – as far as I know, they don’t pay any of the coordinators who really organize most of the Festival. And, what would Cultural Affairs be doing this time of year if they are not managing the Festival?

Anyhoo – Linda and I spent six hours in both Marion Square and over at Wragg Square at the 2011 Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Fair. I didn’t hear any complaints over at the Crafts Fair, but I knew there were some, but the kind that can’t be helped – at least overnight. One corner of that park is in open sunlight and it was 20 degrees hotter in that section and it was already hot enough that day. I felt sorry for the artists in that section, but trees don’t grow over night. But it’s better than the old days.


The first Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Fair we went to, way back when, was at Marion Square Park in the open sun under a huge olive green Army tent. It was hotter under that tent than outside. I’d take Wragg Square any day over any of the other locations this fair has been in – other than the Gaillard Auditorium – that was a good location (inside and air-conditioned), but Spoleto doesn’t like to share.

We saw lots of good art, had a lot of great conversations – it wasn’t all bitching and when it was over we were really amazed that we had spent six hours there. Of course one hour was taken up by me being a stand-in for a model who didn’t show up for a portrait demo that Steven Jordan was giving.

I had my portrait done by Steven Jordan, The Painter of Bud Light, at Piccolo Spoleto. Now how many people can say that? It’s not finished but we hope to have the final version to show off soon.


We also learned that a lot of people in the park didn’t know that Carolina Arts had gone totally online, which is good and bad. Many are in that camp like to hold something in their hands when they read, but it was also a good thing since many will now be checking us out online. And, we’re not complaining these days as we had over 61,000 people download our May 2011 issue.

The 2011 Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibit will go on through June 11, from 10am-6pm and the next 2011 Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Fair will take place June 3-5, Fri. & Sat., 10am-6pm and Sun. 11am-5pm. Both shows offer demonstrations by participating artists. Go down and take a look at all the interesting art being offered and buy something.

Social Media and the Outdoor Art Exhibit

You can keep up with the 2011 Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibit with blogs and Facebook. For years Amelia (Mimi) Whaley has been blogging daily from the park on her personal blog ( starting after the first day of the festival. This year she has set up a Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibit group blog ( where several people will be adding their observations from the park. You can even log onto theOutdoor Art Exhibit’s Facebook page at this link (

It was a pretty good day away from our computers, but on the drive home I saw something very disturbing. On I-26, between Cosgrove Avenue and the Montague Avenue exit, there were six billboard signs in a row promoting McDonald’s frozen strawberry lemonade drink. Six billboards needed to show a lemon and a strawberry coming together to make one drink. That’s insane.

I hate billboards, but I realize some are informative to travelers, but this is not information – this was insane. Are people that stupid that they don’t know what you would get when you put lemons and strawberries together in a drink?

I drive into McDonald’s on occasion, but I won’t be doing it while those six billboards are there.

Now, if someone knows the phone number to the numb-nut who is in charge of McDonald’s advertising – we’d be happy to sell them an ad on every one of our pages – of every issue. Just think what a statement that would make. But don’t wait for it. We don’t let anyone advertise whatever they like in our papers. It has cost us at times, but anything and everything doesn’t go at Carolina Arts.

First Look At Piccolo Spoleto Visual Art Events for 2010 in Charleston, SC

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Right off the bat we have a few corrections to my preview of the Piccolo Spoleto visual art offerings taking place in Charleston, SC. It seems for some reason on the second day of the festivals two of the rest rooms at the Charleston Visitor Center were under “construction” – whatever that means beyond a reduction of rest rooms by 50%. Why now, I can not answer, but a staff person said they hoped they would be open soon. Me too – as well as a lot of other folks.

And, after a slow start, Amelia (“Mimi”) Whaley’s blog from the 2010 Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition at Marion Square is now up and running with info from the inside. She has pictures and a list of the winning entries from this show. Visit this link to keep up with this show.

Our first stop was to see the 2010 Piccolo Spoleto Juried Art Exhibition. It just seems that this juried opportunity isn’t as important as it once was or should be to the visual artists of the greater Charleston area or for South Carolina’s visual artists. It’s not the best location for an exhibit (Charleston Visitor Center) – although it has a high rate of traffic – especially with the only public rest rooms within blocks in downtown Charleston. The lighting is bad and the displays are a little too tight.


My first impression is that photographers have started taking this show over. Not so according to the show breakdown (49 photographs and 63 paintings), but it sure seemed that way to me. One of the judges is a local photographer – the show has two – one for photography and one for everything else, but I’m not sure why the Charleston Artist Guild – organizers of the exhibit feel they need two judges. Why not just find one judge – well rounded in the visual arts – from outside the area (out of state would be better) to judge this show and treat all the visual art works entered – equally?

Of course the big problem with commenting about a juried show is that we will never know what was entered and what didn’t make the cut. Is this the best of what was entered or just what reflects the taste of the jurors? But, then that’s the way all juried shows are. Where the artists who made the cut are from isn’t given, but if I look at area codes for phone numbers listed – this is a Lowcountry or coastal SC show. My guess is that also reflects where most of the 463 works entered came from. Why more artists from around the state are not in the show is a puzzle. Did they not enter the show? Was it too difficult for them to enter due to distance? I don’t know why these kinds of shows always seem to be local. I think all areas of SC have great artists, – too bad more artists from other parts of the state aren’t represented in this show.

One of the good things about this exhibit was that I didn’t recognize a lot of the names of the artists. There is nothing worse than an annual juried show which seems to include the same folks – year after year. And, since names which are included in solo exhibits, group exhibits, and juried exhibits come across my radar on a regular basis at Carolina Arts – this show may have become a great opportunity for the up and coming artists of the area – with some of the veterans of the art community still giving them a run for the money.

I only found a few things hanging that made me wonder – was this the best they had to select from? But that is a very subjective feeling on my part knowing what doesn’t appeal to me may be other folks’ favorites. Like all art.

A lot of the other Piccolo Spoleto visual arts exhibits tend to feature artists who are not always so new to the area, nor unseen. I’ll go as far in saying that some should take a break if their egos can take it and give some others a chance, but here the problem stems from the question – who selects these special invitational shows. Do they know many artists to begin with and can they stop selecting folks who are “connected” in one way or another.

When you have been around as long as I have and seen as many Piccolo offerings as I have – you can recognize the cycles that keep recurring – every four or five years. Lately, we’re being offered some artists – every year. That practice needs to stop.

But, that’s not always a bad thing. When it comes to the outdoor art and craft shows – visitors look forward to seeing the new work their favorite artists are offering. Those shows actually bring visitors to Charleston on a regular basis – whether they return for the festivals or not. Visitors come to see known artists. Again – these words are offered with the recognition that these shows are also regular supporters of Carolina Arts. Would I heap such praise on them if they were not? I guess it’s a matter of my word and the trust in it.

Which brings us to the 2010 Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Shows.

From the very beginnings of Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto Festivals the craft shows have been an annual “must see” for Linda (my better half) and I. We went when it first started in the middle of Marion Square Park under this huge tent – where it must have been 100 degrees under that tent at times. We started our art collection there and added to it almost every year – depending on the economy. It didn’t hurt that our anniversary and my birthday come in the same month the craft shows happen. It used to be called the craft fairs back then.


An image burned in my memory of those days out in the middle of the park was of a local blacksmith – Ira DeKoven who used to do demonstrations outside the tent in the hot sun. Man, that was going beyond the call of duty to let people see the process.

These days the weekend shows take place in Wragg Square, within a half block of Marion Square – mostly under the shade of live oak trees. During the walk from our car on the third floor of the Visitor Center parking garage to the ground floor we were able to give a half dozen folks the remainder of our free tickets to the craft show which we receive in the mail each year. One happy recipient was so glad – as she couldn’t find one in a gallery that she usually picks up each year. Timing is everything.


I’ve got to say, this year’s craft offerings were as good as ever – maybe a bit too many jewelry booths for one husband to take, but a well rounded selection of fine crafts. I paid special attention to potters from the Carolinas this year collecting info for an upcoming project. Most were from North Carolina. I always hate to point out favorites, but if I had won the lottery the day before I would have gotten something from Flying Pig Pottery(Suzanne Rehbock) of Greensboro, NC. Hey, if I had won the lottery the day before I would have put a smile on a lot of faces of the artists showing in this show. Unfortunately – I didn’t.

If you missed the craft show this weekend – you’re in luck. They will hold another one next weekend – same place, same times – June 4 – 6, 2010.

Parking cost for this day – $3. Not bad. We only had a limited time – I had to go to bed early so I could deliver some newspapers.

More info later.