In 2011, Charleston's art world experienced openings and closings, comebacks and scandals, and we caught a glimpse of what things might look like a few years down the road. We've suffered some blows, but we've also made some major strides. Despite the low points, 2011 leaves us with an overwhelming sense of pride for Charleston's art scene and a strong hope for its future.
Rest in peace. The arts community said goodbye two of its members during a tragic two-week span in July. First, local actress and Mammalogues creator Gene Glave lost her battle with breast cancer. Glave, who also worked as a nurse at Roper St. Francis, had inspired countless breast cancer patients and their families with her humorous and heartfelt play about battling the disease. A few days later, we learned that Robert Ivey, a key figure in the city's dance community, had passed away following a long illness. Ivey founded Robert Ivey Ballet and taught dance at the College of Charleston. (A month later, Michael and Olga Wise were named the new artistic directors of the company.)
Homeward bound. Not too long ago, local theater groups were in the midst of a venue crisis, with renovations and landlord disagreements leaving some without a permanent space. But this year, just about everyone found a place to call home. Newcomer Threshold Repertory Co. opened their theater on Society Street after a season at Memminger, and Mt. Pleasant's Village Playhouse announced plans to renovate a historic warehouse on Woolfe Street downtown (see story, p. 63). Ade Offuniyin worked hard to build a space for Gullah Theatre at Studio P.S. in the Neck (although they were still dealing with zoning issues last time we checked). DanceFX set up shop in an old strip mall near Hampton Park. And after years of hopping between venues, PURE moved into the Charleston Ballet Theatre's former space (while the CBT, unfortunately, began their own period of transience).
Contemporary triumphs. The Halsey, Robert Lange Studios, and Rebekah Jacob Gallery continued to thrive at the forefront of the local contemporary visual arts scene. And Redux undertook a massive expansion project, adding a new building with more studios and gallery space. Redux's Director Karen Ann Myers moved to the Halsey in October, and Janie Askew took over as the new director. We're excited to see what she brings to the organization.
Closing doors. Sadly, Charleston's visual arts scene suffered some major losses this year. Allison Sprock Fine Art closed its doors as Sprock moved her operations to Charlotte. King Street gallery/boutique Aster Hall also fell victim to the economy, as did SCOOP Studios and Eye Level Art. New organizations like Atelier Gallery, BlueNess Studios, Michael Mitchell Gallery, and the Tivoli artist collective seem poised to fill in the gap.
Ballet troubles. Earlier this year we were alerted to some issues going on behind the scenes at the Charleston Ballet Theatre. Over the course of many interviews, we learned that the CBT had been accused of using works by not just one but two international choreographers without their permission. This bombshell came soon after the company announced plans to leave their longtime space on King Street. That, coupled with dancers' complaints of poor treatment by CBT leadership, led some to question their future. But CEO Jill Bahr seems determined to lead the company forward.
Spoleto goes big. In 2011, Spoleto Festival USA celebrated its biggest season in years, with major productions including Kneehigh Theatre's The Red Shoes, Circa, Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, and The Gospel at Colonus bringing in record ticket sales. Our overview critic Patrick Sharbaugh said, "This festival felt more self-consciously populist than others in recent memory." With acts like Trombone Shorty, Taylor Mac, and Sarah Jarosz, it was certainly a fun season.
a $142 million controversy. The proposed multimillion dollar renovation of the Gaillard Auditorium has been a huge source of controversy, but supporters made some major strides toward reaching their goals this year. The Board of Architectural Review voted to give preliminary approval to the design by David M. Schwarz Architects. And the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $100,000 Our Town grant to the city — a drop in the bucket for the $142 million project. Spoleto Festival USA and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra will benefit greatly from the renovation, but others in the city question whether the money would be better spent elsewhere (cough, Crosstown flooding, cough).
Orchestra bounces back. Speaking of the CSO, it was a good year for them. While 2010 presented the orchestra with endless challenges (infighting, downsizing, a complete shut-down, and the death of Music Director David Stahl), 2011 was all about starting over. The year started off with a fresh new executive director in Daniel Beckley, who helped improve relations between the musicians, staff, and board members while revitalizing the board and hiring seven new staffers. Since then, the CSO has been playing all over town and enjoying record-breaking ticket sales. If the community continues its support in 2012 and beyond, our orchestra's future is bright.
Arts: 1, Haley: 0. Earlier this year, there was quite the hubbub when Gov. Nikki Haley recommended cutting funding to S.C. ETV and the S.C. Arts Commission. "The reality is the role of South Carolina's government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million. It cannot be one that funds ETV, costing taxpayers $9.6 million," she said. The S.C. House and Senate later overrode Gov. Haley's vetoes, although the Commission's budget was cut to $1.9 million and ETV was cut to $6 million.
Creative community heads uptown. This year, the idea of a creative corridor in the Neck area of the peninsula really started to take shape. Creative businesses like Cone 10 Studios, Ahern's Anvil, Michael Moran Woodworked Furniture, and the City Paper have long flocked to the industrial area, and many are hoping to join forces to create a more unified neighborhood. Kate and Lindsay Nevin's plan to turn the old building at 1600 Meeting Street into an arts collective, complete with a black box theater and restaurant, could help transform the overlooked area into an arts destination.