Things to do inside the belly of a whale. A fictional account of post-tragedy. The celebration and advocacy of Gullah culture and heritage. An adage of an activist.
These were among the topics featured in the performances and pieces of original work by artists at Coastal Carolina University this past week during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the S.C. Arts Commission. Coastal was chosen as the event’s host due to having a higher number of faculty awards from the S.C. Arts Commission than any other college or university in the state.
On June 7, 1967, S.C. Gov. Robert McNair signed legislation that established the commission, which provides poets, writers, performers and musicians with funding through scholarships, grants, awards and fellowships in addition to supporting arts organizations throughout the state.
“That was an endorsement of public support for the arts in South Carolina…the first of the kind,” said Ken May, executive director of the SCAC, “and we’ve had 50 years of pursuing that goal ever since.”
May stressed the importance of artists at the celebration, which featured awardees from Horry and Georgetown counties including current members of Coastal faculty who’d received funding from the commission through awards, fellowships and grants, as they read from and performed their original works of poetry, prose, music and folk talks.
“We absolutely need artists,” he said. "They give us joy, stimulate our imaginations, help us understand ourselves and…help us confront the most profound elements of being human.”
He highlighted some of the goals of the organization.
“We think it’s very important we recognize individuals who have contributed to the arts in South Carolina in a significant way,” he added. “To be recognized for the quality of your work I think is a fundamental desire of every artist. In fact, I’d say of every human being.”
Not only was the importance individual artists recognized, but also the impact of community arts organizations in the state who support artistry as well as local economies, many of which who have received grants from the commission.
Amy Tully, associate dean of the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts and associate professor of music at Coastal, cited organizations like the Theatre of the Republic and the Long Bay Symphony as being key parts of the local community.
“These organizations are just a few of the cultural industries that provide three percent of the state’s economy,” she said.
To date, the commission has given more than $77 million in funding to artists and arts organizations throughout the state.
A native of Beaufort whose family now lives in Georgetown, Ron Daise, was the recipient of a folk heritage award and a folklife and traditional arts apprenticeship grant from the commission. During the celebration, he performed a piece titled “Creativity,” which commemorated Gullah heritage and spoke on the importance of creativity within its culture.
He later spoke on what art itself can do.
“Art is a way of informing, inspiring and empowering people,” he said.
His son, Simeon Daise, also a recipient of a folklife and traditional arts apprenticeship grant, relayed to the audience a humorous, but informative, folk tale concerning the “boo hag” folklore in Gullah culture.
He said that art has impacted his life significantly.
“Art revealed me to myself,” he said. “Art helps people realize who they are…The path of the artist isn’t an easy one, but it’s one of freedom [and] one that has responsibility. It connects everyone.”
Tully said, as a musician herself, a common trait artists seem to possess is their striving for creation.
“I think what drives us is the passion to create,” she said. “We’re constantly focused on the next project or the next new thing.”
An exhibit of pieces by artists who have won arts fellowships from the commission was on display for attendees during a reception following the celebration.