Inside Tivoli Studios on a Tuesday afternoon, it's hot and there's a bird flapping around in the rafters. The soft drone of oscillating fans pushes the warm air around the open space. But much more than stale breezes and displaced fledglings fill the Upper King Street studios.
What began as an empty industrial warehouse and a passionate vision two years ago has since transformed into a flourishing sanctuary for some of Charleston's most distinctive artists. The vision belonged to Nic Roberts and Lane Huntley, two local artists who wanted to open a gallery in the Holy City. The pair, along with Tivoli's first resident artist and assistant Logan Marks, got to work building individual studios and developing the space into a suitable creative environment. Shortly afterward, Andrew Smock and Dan Dickey joined the group. Of the founding fathers, Roberts, Smock, and Dickey remain at Tivoli.
Since its inception, the studio has experienced its fair share of bumps in the road, and on several occasions — notably when too many empty studio spaces created a lack of funding — the initial trio feared Tivoli would disappear. "This whole thing was started in the midst of a recession," Smock says. "It wasn't exactly the wisest investment." But they weathered each potentially deadly storm, and now the folks at Tivoli are finally preparing to celebrate becoming an officially licensed business in the city of Charleston.
"People don't usually celebrate having to pay taxes, but shit, we're going to," Dickey says. In what will be Tivoli's third official event, the studio, now filled to capacity with local artists, will host Groundbreaking on June 2. Along with new artwork and live music, the event will present an opportunity for the public to discover the story behind Tivoli's first two years as an alternative art outfit. As the event takes place in the midst of Spoleto, the team of artists at Tivoli hopes it will offer an unrehearsed alternative to the festivities happening in other parts of town.
Throughout the first two years at Tivoli, there hasn't been much public foot traffic through the Upper King Street property. At their first few events, a handful of pieces of art sold. With Groundbreaking, they're hoping to attract the public on more of a day-to-day basis and, in a perfect world, start selling some more art. However, as Dickey explains and as every true artist would agree, it's not about the money. "We would all love to make money off of what we're doing, but that's not why we're here," Dickey says. "We're here to create art. If something comes of it, that would be amazing, but we're going to do it no matter what."
More often than not, the past two years have been a rollercoaster for Roberts, Smock, and Dickey. They have seen dozens of artists come and go as the trio puts all of their energies into Tivoli. Still, it is a constant cycle of sacrifice and accomplishment as the young studio continues to define itself. "As far as definition, we've never really been good at that," admits Smock. "We can be undefined."
Dickey adds, "That can be the definition of this event: Come see what undefined is."