2020: The Message?
One of four public health posters by artist Amiri Geuka Farris, Creative Mentor, for The Art of Community: Rural SC.
The Art of Community: Rural SC Newsletter December 2020

Depressing. Impactful.

What three adjectives would you choose to describe 2020? These three words are how Advisory Co-Chair Bob Reeder characterized the year when asked for the first three descriptors that came to mind. He, along with mavens, creative connectors, mentors and advisors chose words that best represented the year for them to build a word cloud (above) at our December Zoom meeting.

The year began full of hope and promise. And, as it draws to a close, it continues with promise and hope in spite of controversy, questions, divisions and revelations. Here we are. Together. A network of community builders looking for new ways to connect that make sense in a world where 'pivot' has become one of the most used words over the last 12 months.

In 2020, The Art of Community: Rural SC initiative proved the power of a network in both happy and depressing times which coursed through the year. Here, we want to trace some of those moments and begin our story as a 2020 overview. In later installments we’ll capture some of the themes that drew us together as community builders— together, we broadened our reach to include more South Carolina stories, voices and counties; we deepened our understanding of the role of creativity in community building practices; we listened to more voices that represent local communities, our state and nation. Lots of time for reflection was also baked into our shared moments.

So, as you journey with us through 2020, please remember the ways you experienced it, how you began a new year of possibilities that was followed shortly by the pandemic, natural disasters, social justice stories and lived experiences, community building and connection –all while we lived life apart and yet together. 

With the greatest gratitude to those integral to this initiative, advisors, mavens, team members, creative connectors, creative mentors, funders, friends and consultants, and to the South Carolina Arts Commission team, staff and board. Please enjoy this sample of our work together, and stay tuned for more coming newsletter installments.

Susan DuPlessis

Program Director
The Art of Community: Rural SC
The South Carolina Arts Commission
Covid-19 and social justice emergencies…where we find ourselves as we end 2020
Newberry's United for Equality rally in May, banner made by Creative Connector, Robert Matheson
A national virtual protest that includes Aiken's NextGen Rural SC Network
Photos from Mavens Meeting, January 31st in Eastover, South Carolina
The beginning…it all seemed so possible in early first quarter 2020.

Highlights included hiring Abby Rawl as our Program Assistant; a field trip to Eastover, SC (Richland County) to hear mavens recount their local assets and challenges; team meetings in the field including trips to Allendale and Jasper counties; participating in the new strategic plan of the SC Arts Commission; launching phase 2 of the Folklife Field School; continuing our Communal Pen Writing Workshop; joining other arts advocates at the SC State House; serving as sponsors and resources for the 2020 Joseph Riley Mayor’s Institute; and celebrating our friend and mentor Dr. Leo Twiggs on his induction into the SC Hall of Fame. All the while, we were planning INSIGHTS 3, the third of our deeply connective meetings with advisors, mavens, teams and connectors. New community building grants were issued to all 15 sites participating in this initiative, and we were planning to learn from what our mavens and teams were creating locally. 

And then March 6, we make a difficult decision to cancel Insights 3 which was planned for Jasper County with Maven Johnny Davis and Creative Connector Tamara Herring and their local team. This was the beginning of the next chapter of adjustment, reconsiderations and digging deeper into how we work and what’s possible.

Photo, above: A happy day in early March at the South Carolina Arts Commission when our brochures arrived--just in time for insights 3 which was canceled days later.

Snapping this photo on the way to Denmark, SC, in mid January, we had no idea how much 'road work' was ahead of us in 2020.
Creative Mentor, Bobby Harley and his daughter (our youngest member) on our weekly Art of Community zoom meeting.
Creative Mentor, Ellen Kochansky and her mother (recently turned 100!)
Learning Together

Meeting twice a week beginning March 20 began a series of connections, relationships and exchange of knowledge. We continue these meetings today (now four times a month) for Mavens, Creative Connectors, Mentors, friends and SCAC staff. All totaled, we will have had 54 Zoom meetings; two guest-led workshops; hosted six Communal Pen writing workshops; and four Folklife Fieldschool sessions. We have featured 12 special guest speakers from around the country. We invited five South Carolina artists to join us as 'Creative Mentors' who helped spur conversations around creativity, making and collaborating in shared spaces and as individual artists.
Click the image below to view 'Hometown Heros' film, shot by Xavier Blake at SCETV
Local Projects

While we were experiencing the first effects of quarantine amidst a pandemic with mounting deaths across the country, mavens, teams and creative connectors were grappling with the big question of ‘what next?’ regarding their grant funding to build community using arts and culture in strategic ways. How to be relevant inside this new bubble of unknowns? Asking what is 'community' when we cannot gather. Considering what was important in this moment when so many were losing jobs and risking their lives as frontline workers. We shared our most tender thoughts as we watched in horror the murder of George Floyd and the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. We asked ourselves, what really matters in this moment?

*Photos: TOP, Allendale's Thank You mural honoring frontline Hometown Heroes in June; Picken's Native American Trail unveiling at Hagood Mill in November; Hampton County's upcoming Let It Glow event
Below: Maven Lydia Cotton at the Doors for Hope gathering in Hanahan in June; and artwork from Beaufort County's Gullah-based public service messages through art through the summer of 2020.


Together, this network of mavens, team members, creative connectors and mavens with SCAC staff and friends, we practiced upholding the objectives of The Art of Community: Rural SC and encouraged ongoing documentation of community, change, challenge and assets in this historic and complicated set of circumstances. We shared new films that looked at housing, at community exchange between states, at who the mavens are. We asked, how can we create new stories of response that use arts and culture strategically? New partnerships were born to further the ways we tell our stories and connect with a larger public, in state and beyond.

*featuring three episodes with Maven Lottie Lewis and Yvette McDaniel, and Susan DuPlessis

*Photo: Program Specialist for Community Arts and Folklife, Laura Marcus Green, launches the Folklife Field School in February 2020; subsequent meetings were presented virtually and in continued partnership with Appalshop of Kentucky and the Blackville Community Development Corporation. The field school met at the Golden Retreat Senior Center in Blackville, SC.
Field Building

With powerful documentation, we began to yield new stories that contribute to the field of creative community building and better communicate what ‘rural life’ looks like. We presented at conferences to share the stories of mavens, teams, creative connectors and mentors all working in connective ways and illuminating the richness and authenticity of local cultures, assets and voices. Recently, The Art of Community: Rural SC has been featured nationally as a case study; and contributed to a new field guide for local government.

A featured case study in the Creative Placemaking Public Resources Guide.

Check out the new Creative Placemaking Guide for Local Government, released December 15, 2020
Maven and Creative Mentor, Michael Dantzler (above) and Creative Connector, Ian Dillinger (right), participated in state and national conferences representing The Art of Community: Rural SC.
Advisory co-chair, Bob Reeder, represented The Art of Community: Rural SC at Justice Sunday to accept an award recognizing the work of Mavens, teams, and Creative Connectors across the state.
What’s next?
In the coming months, we’ll share more about the Creative Community Building Projects, how we flex to learned together, ways we document and contribute to the field of Creative Placemaking. As well, we’ll take a deeper look at the three focus areas of our work: Health, Economic Development and Education. 

So, as we close this year, please accept our Season’s Greetings and Gratitude! We’ve learned so much in 2020. Let’s take that and begin anew and better equipped in 2021. Stay tuned! 
The Art of Community: Rural SC Maven's Film

Debuted June 12, 2020 on our weekly mavens and advisors zoom call that included South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director and other staff members. This film debuted concluded a nine-month documentation project, directed by Sherard Duvall, Creative Mentor.
Read more about the mavens in this June 2020 Press Release
South Carolina Arts Commissions Strategic Plan

Featuring David Platts, Executive Director, Terrance Washington, Creative Connector Blackville, SC, and Amber Westbrook, SCAC Grants Manager, and other SCAC staff and friends.

A big thanks to our advisors, supporters and funders!
Pam Breaux, Co-chair
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Washington, D.C
J. Robert "Bob" Reeder, Co-chair
Rural LISC, Columbia, SC and Washington, D.C.
Graham Adams,
South Carolina Office of Rural Health

Savannah Barrett,
Art of the Rural, Kentucky

Dr. J. Herman Blake, (Ret.)
Humanities Scholar, South Carolina

Andy Brack,
Charleston City Paper and State House Report, South Carolina

Dr. Ann Carmichael, (Ret.)
UofSC-Salkehatchie, Co-Chair Emerita

Dee Crawford,
South Carolina Arts Commission Board

Robbie Davis,
Smithsonian Museum on Main Street, Washington, D.C.

Vernita Dore, (Ret.)
USDA-Rural Development, Beaufort, South Carolina

Charles Fluharty,
RUPRI & Rural Cultural Wealth Lab, Ohio

Kerri Forrest,
Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, South Carolina and Illinois

Sara June Goldstein, (Ret.)
South Carolina Arts Commission

Don Gordon,
The Riley Institute at Furman, South Carolina

Dixie Goswami,
Write to Change Foundation, (Ret.) Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English, South Carolina and Vermont
Ken May, (Ret.)
South Carolina Arts Commission

Bernie Mazyck,
South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development

Bill Molnar,
Lower Savannah Council of Governments, South Carolina

Doug Peach,
Sandy Spring Museum, Maryland

Brandolyn Pinkston, (Ret.)
Consumer Affairs Director, South Carolina and Georgia

Jane Przybysz,
UofSC McKissick Museum

Lillian Reeves,
Piedmont University, Demorest, Georgia

David Smalls,
Political Consultant, Walterboro, South Carolina

Susie Surkamer,
SouthArts, Atlanta, Georgia

Leila Tamari,
ArtPlace America, New York

Javier Torres,
SURDNA Foundation, New York

Dean Van Pelt,
Savannah River Nuclear Site, South Carolina

Leonardo Vazquez,
The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, New Jersey

Chris Walker, (Ret.)
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Washington, D.C.