Arts and Culture in South Carolina
South Carolina’s fine arts scene may not rival that of North Carolina, but several unique aspects of the state’s history and cultural development have resulted in noteworthy public art, diverse handicraft traditions, and a great number of cultural festivals. Throughout the state, communities host upwards of 425 festivals per year, celebrating everything from opera to gumbo. In addition, sites and monuments related to the Civil War appeal to history and architecture buffs.
While South Carolina has few professional orchestras, and the professional orchestras that exist have brief or spotty seasons, touring and festival orchestras bridge the gap. One of the highlights of South Carolina’s cultural calendar is the Spoleto Festival, which features the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra. Charleston’s spring festival features many dance, opera, choral, and musical events that require accompaniment. Musical performances during the festival feature classical, chamber, and contemporary work.
From autumn through spring, the South Carolina Philharmonic presents its masterworks series at Columbia’s Koger Center for the Arts.
The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra performs in concert halls, on the grounds of plantations, in parks, and at other community locations. The orchestra’s season includes classical concerts as well as jazz, pops, and youth programs.
Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel conducts the Greenville Symphony Orchestra in several community performances per year.
In Myrtle Beach, the Long Bay Symphony is a professional ensemble that presents classical concerts as well as several educational programs for adults and children.
South Carolina Opera Company performs at the Newberry Opera House, an 1881 historic structure that underwent a $5.5 million renovation. The company’s brief season consists of two or three productions of classic operas and operettas.
Since the 1980s, the professional dance troupe Charleston Ballet Theatre has performed a repertory of classics, notably by choreographers George Balanchine and José Limon.
Founded in 1972, Greenville’s Carolina Ballet Theatre performs under the artistic direction of Hernan Justo and his wife, professional dancer Anita Pacylowski-Justo.
South Carolina offers countless small, community museums, sometimes housed in library rooms and occasionally contained within elegant, historic structures. Some museum collections have less to offer than the historical significance of the building itself, be it a Civil War-related site or a plantation home.
Founded in 1858 as the Carolina Art Association in 1858, the Gibbes Museum of Art stands in the midst of Charleston’s historic district. Open to the public since 1905, the museum exhibits over 10,000 works of art. Located in Charleston’s historic district, the Gibbes houses a premier collection of works, principally by American artists, with deep holdings in Colonial painting and contemporary American art.
The Charleston Museum holds the distinction of being America’s first museum, with a founding date of 1773. The collection reflects South Carolina Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history, with exhibits of crazy quilts, antique dolls, historic fashion, pottery, fossils, silver, and jewelry.
McKissick Museum, at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, is the southeast’s largest university museum. The permanent exhibits showcase material culture, decorative art, natural objects, historical items, and fine art.
The 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia highlights work by contemporary, experimental, and interdisciplinary artists.
At Columbia’s South Carolina State Museum, the Lipscomb Gallery showcases traditional portraiture, decorative art, and contemporary work by South Carolina artists. Other areas of the museum focus on science, technology, natural history, and cultural history.
The 25 galleries of the Columbia Museum of Art feature many notable works, including paintings by Monet, Tiffany art glass, and the only Botticelli fresco in a collection outside of Italy.
Cherokee County History and Arts Museum, on the site of the South Carolina militia’s historic mustering grounds, chronicles the cultural and historical evolution of Cherokee County. Exhibits feature geological finds, Native American culture, Revolutionary War history, textiles, and objects related to farming and agrarian life.
Housed inside an Art Moderne structure, the Florence Museum of Art, Science, and History hosts exhibits highlighting regional history and themes around Asian, African, ancient Mediterranean, and Southwest Pueblo peoples.
In Myrtle Beach, the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum has an unprepossessing facade of a 1924 beach cottage. Inside, the permanent collection and temporary exhibits provide a lively examination of the contemporary arts scene, regionally and beyond.
The Greenville County Museum of Art specializes in American art, with an emphasis on Southern artists. The museum’s principal attraction is its group of 29 watercolors by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009).
The Greenville Cultural Exchange Center emphasizes African-American history and culture. A resource center holds biographical sketches, articles, tape recordings, letters, and photographs of famous African American people.
In Greenville’s Bob Jones University Museum, 30 elegant galleries present European old master paintings as well as tapestries, antique furniture, sculpture, and architectural motifs dating from the 1300s through the 1800s. Artists such as Rubens, Van Dyck, and Tintoretto are represented in the permanent holdings.
Situated in Cheraw’s historic black business district, the Southern African American Heritage Center collects, showcases, and preserves objects, art, and artifacts from Chesterfield County African Americans.
The Spartanburg Art Museum features a permanent collection of 20th century art including work by Robert Henri (1865-1929), Charleston Renaissance artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner (1883-1979), and Hattie Saussy (1871-1955).
The seven-acre (2.8-hectare) estate of the Lexington County Museum includes a notable collection as well as several historic outbuildings. The galleries stand within the 1832 John Fox House, and feature quilts, textiles, and period furniture and accessories. On the grounds, sites of interest include a summer and winter dairy, a privy, a pigeon house, and a sweet potato house.
A major South Carolina musical genre is beach music. Credit Myrtle Beach and other South and North Carolina coastal communities with producing this 1960s sound that mixes early rhythm and blues, upbeat rock and roll, and elements of soul and disco. A shuffling beat brings it all together, creating the backdrop for people to do The Shag, South Carolina’s official state dance.
South Carolina’s official music is the African-American spiritual. Spirituals are sacred Christian songs dating from the 1800s.
Many musical superstars hail from South Carolina, and their talents reflect diverse musical genres.Eartha Kitt, an actress and a singer, performed cabaret and sang torch songs. The Godfather of Soul,James Brown, counted Barnwell as his birthplace. His hit singles include Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, and It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World. Jazz trumpeter and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie earned fame in the genres of bebop, modern jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, and big band music, often accompanied by his scat singing.
Among the other major musicians associated with South Carolina are The Mamas & the Papas founderJohn Phillips, doowop singer Billy Pinkney, neo-soul singer Angie Stone, rock act Hootie and the Blowfish, country rockers The Marshall Tucker Band, beach music band The Swinging Medallions, singer-songwriter Chubby Checker, pop balladeer Brook Benton, soul singer Peabo Bryson, rhythm and blues artist Teddy Pendergrass, and bluegrass band The Hired Hands.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
In 1977, Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti and other artists created the American version of the annual Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. The Spoleto Festival USA draws international audiences for its theatrical productions, of which many are American premieres or works commissioned specifically for the festival.
Charleston’s large-scale Gaillard Municipal Auditorium showcases Broadway spectacles, African American gospel plays, live music, and other performing arts. Charleston Stage, formed by playwright Julian Wiles in 1978, stages professional productions at the renovated, historic Dock Street Theatre.
In Columbia, Trustus Theatre’s season features eight main stage productions of musicals, dramas, farces, one-acts, sketch comedy, and late night shows. The city’s Workshop Theatre represents a collaborative community effort. Well-known comedies, classic dramas, farces, and musicals compose the season of Columbia’s Town Theatre, an ensemble formed in 1919. At downtown Columbia’s Koger Center for the Arts, touring and resident company performances include theater, dance, music, and opera.
The Carolina Opry, described as "an entertainment phenomenon" by Southern Living magazine, lights up Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand with a combination of music, comedy, dance, and special effects.
In Greenville, the Distracted Globe ensemble consists of professional actors presenting comedies, improvisational theater, and classics with contemporary updates. Greenville’s Peace Center hosts visiting Broadway productions, pop music stars, opera companies, dance troupes, comedians, and classical musicians.
Greenwood Lander Performing Arts, on the campus of Greenwood’s Lander University, hosts an international roster of visiting performers, productions, and ensembles.
Three buildings comprise Spartanburg’s Chapman Cultural Center. Performing artists, visual artists, and dancers perform in the 500-seat proscenium theater.
For over five decades, the Aiken Community Playhouse, tucked within Aiken’s Washington Center for the Arts, has staged popular musicals and comedies. The 2010–2011 season, From Stage to Screen and Back Again, features hits such as Rent, the Alice in Wonderland adaptation Rabbit Hole, a new version of Frankenstein, and Crossing Delancey, among others.
Critics and audiences largely ignored the comedy film Shag when it was released in 1989. However, since that time, the movie has garnered a cult following, largely due to its depiction of the Carolina beach music scene and Carolina shag dancing. Most people attribute the modern permutations of the Carolina shag with Myrtle Beach and the 1940s-era rhythm and blues bands that provided the shuffling beat.
Among the films shot in or set in South Carolina are the war film Full Metal Jacket (1987), the American Revolutionary War movie The Patriot (2000), Golden Globe-winning sports drama The Longest Yard (1974), Clint Eastwood’s drama A Perfect World (1993), the science fiction movie The Abyss (1989), the drama The Great Santini (1979), the live-action version of The Jungle Book(1994), baby boomer reunion flick The Big Chill (1983), war drama and sleeper hit Cold Mountain(2003), psychological thriller Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), Wes Craven’s horror movie Swamp Thing (1982), action film sequel Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), and hit film Forrest Gump(1994).
South Carolina’s most famous actors include comedian Chris Rock, political satirist Stephen Colbert, award-winning actress Andie MacDowell, television and film star Mary-Louise Parker, and model and actress Lauren Hutton.
South Carolina hosts several film festivals. The Beaufort International Film Festival consists of screenings of features, documentaries, short films, student films, and animated work, as well as an art walk, art shows, and parties around town. The young Charleston International Film Festival, formed in 2007, features four days of screenings, sneak previews, and premieres representing local, regional, and international filmmakers. The Indie Grits Film Festival, staged at Columbia’s Nickelodeon Theatre, South Carolina’s only nonprofit art house theater, screens works by first-time media creators. The small-scale Toaster Film Festival asks filmmakers to create short films around the theme of an everyday object.
Greenville native Dorothy Allison (b. 1949) earned notoriety for her first novel Bastard Out of Carolina(1992), a harrowing story of abuse within a poor rural family. Allison worked on the novel for almost a decade.
Fripp Island resident and South Carolina Hall of Fame inductee Pat Conroy (b. 1945) has written several novels about Lowcountry life. Conroy’s well-known works include The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides. Both of these works were adapted into films.
Other writers associated with South Carolina include civil rights activist Mary Jane McLeod Bethune(1875-1955), Newbery Medal-winning children’s author Betsy Byars (1928), poet and critic Kwame Dawes (b. 1962), poet and novelist James Dickey (1923-1997), novelist and thriller writer Anne Rivers Siddons (b. 1936), memoir-writer and poet Carrie Allen McCray (1913-2008), Gullah language activist Virginia Mixson Geraty (1915-2004), and Peggy Parish (1927-1988), author of theAmelia Bedelia series of children’s books.
Several visual artists have South Carolina backgrounds, but few have gained notoriety beyond the region. At the Artists Colony in Sumter, a series of studios and workshops allow people to watch artists and craftspeople at work. Beaufort’s ARTworks features several galleries and studios showcasing Lowcountry artists at work on diverse media.
Although not born in South Carolina, Jasper Johns (b. 1930) grew up in Allendale. The 20th-century painter earned notoriety for his first painting, Flag (1955), which consisted of a full-canvas depiction of an American flag. The everyday subject matter, elevated to the realm of art, reflected a key principle in pop art.
Washington Allston (1779-1843) drew from poetry, the bible, novels, and nature to create landscape paintings in the Romantic school. One famous, albeit unfinished, work, Belshazzar’s Feast reflects Allston’s belief that history contains cycles of empires rising and falling.
Blue Sky (b. 1938) earned fame for painting South Carolina’s first monumental public mural,Tunnelvision, in 1975. He used trompe-l'oeil techniques to paint an image of a tunnel, and the light at the end of it, on the side of Columbia’s Federal Land Bank. A handful of drivers have attempted to drive into the tunnel image. Other South Carolina murals by Blue Sky include Moonlight on the Great Pee Dee(Florence), Winter Beach (Sumter), Incident at the Kirkwood Inn (Camden), Old Darlington Public Square (Darlington), Full Moon Over the River Jordan (Pelion), Gervais Street Extension (Columbia),Man Escapes (Columbia), Overflow (Columbia), and The Other Side of the Tunnel (Columbia).
Old Charleston features a historic district filled with points of interest. The district begins at Market and Meeting streets, where the 1841 City Market building stands, now serving as the Confederate Museum. Other area attractions include the 1700s Powder Magazine, St. Phillip’s Church (1835), and the Congregational Church (1891).
Charleston’s Drayton Hall (1742) served as a plantation house but is now a museum with docent-led tours.
Wealthy merchant John Mark Verdier built his mansion in Beaufort between 1800 and 1805. TheVerdier House represents Federal-style architecture and features an elaborate arched entry. The house functioned as the post headquarters for soldiers during the Civil War.
The Hagood-Mauldin House, now operating as the Irma Morris Museum of Fine Art, has typical Greek Revival architecture. Furnishings and artwork inside date from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Lowcountry rice crop culture informs the stately grounds of Hampton Plantation. This colonial-era plantation provides insight into the system of slavery.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Native American life and culture thrives in South Carolina’s handicrafts and folk art. At the Barnwell County Museum, exhibits of artifacts and artwork, as well as dramatic presentations, illuminate Native American life from times past to the present. At the Catawba Cultural Center, videos and objects chronicle Catawba Indian Nation customs. Indian artifacts compose the heart of the collections of thePratt Memorial Library & Webel Museum, while regional pottery is the focus of the Abbeville County Library’s Samuel R. Poliakoff Collection of Western Art.
South Carolina folk art pottery has various forms. Otis Norris is a prime practitioner of the form, which dates back to the 1800s. The Seagrove, Catawba, and Edgefield areas in particular have produced many potters who create rustic forms that often incorporate natural or animal imagery. Old Edgefield Pottery is a museum and studio displaying several examples of this alkaline-glazed pottery.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
Like many other southern states, South Carolina has its share of practitioners of unschooled, mostly rural, artists who fall within the definitions of outsider art, visionary art, primitive art, self-taught art, and intuitive art. The Charleston gallery Artistic Spirit, situated in the old Navy Yard, features work by South Carolina and southern artists working in these traditions.
Between the years 1915 and 1940, the city of Charleston experienced an artistic rebirth that many refer to as The Charleston Renaissance. A community of active artists, among them Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876-1958), Anna Heyward Taylor (1879-1956), Elizabeth O’Neill Verner (1883-1979), and Alfred Hutty (1877-1954), formed a tight circle within Charleston’s historic district. Artists such as Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), and Childe Hassam (1859-1935) visited Charleston at this time, also contributing to the resurgence of interest in fine art.
-World Trade Press