As one does this time of year, we in the arts department of the Charleston City Paper have become somewhat reflective. As the year draws to its inevitable champagne-fueled close, we look back to remember the biggest moments of 2014's arts year — and you know what? No offense, Charleston, but most of them were bummers.
Let us hasten to add that this is not to disparage the excellent work our local visual arts galleries, theaters, and other arts groups did this year. To see how busy and impressive they were, all you have to do is flip through the Arts section of any given issue.
That being said, here follows our list of the top developments in 2014 — and here's hoping that 2015 turns out to be sunnier.
The Flowertown Players, the College of Charleston, and USC Upstate nearly lose funding due to attempts at censorship
This July, Summerville Town Councilman Terry Jenkins tried to withhold $3,000 of accommodation tax funding from Summerville's Flowertown Players because he thought that RENT was too "raunchy" for a community theater to produce. Although the proposal to remove the funding ultimately failed, Flowertown's artistic director JC Conway was asked to attend a council finance meeting to explain his choice of production.
It was the third attempt at censorship of the arts in South Carolina in just a few months' time. This March, the S.C. state legislature moved to strip USC Upstate and the College of Charleston of funding for presenting a play and a book, respectively, that represent LGBT characters and lifestyles. (The play in question was How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less, and the book was MacArthur "Genius" award-winning Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.) The measure was eventually defeated, but now we're left with the knowledge that members of our legislature — and town and city councils — are even more backward than we thought.
The Gaillard Auditorium is delayed beyond Spoleto Festival USA 2015
On Nov. 12, the city announced that the Gaillard, which is in the midst of extensive renovation — it's basically being completely rebuilt — would not be open for next year's Spoleto Festival, as planned. This resulted in a whole lot of shuffling by festival staff as they scrambled to find new venues for all the shows that they'd planned to host in the shiny new performing arts center. But they handled it with grace. Spoleto's director of marketing and PR, Jennifer Scott, told us the day after the announcement that "Ultimately, we're pleased that the city took the time to stop and say, 'Wait a minute, let's have a look at what's happening.' We're just pleased that they're making the commitment to building the best hall they can."
Let's hope that the auditorium really blows us all away when it does open.
On a similar topic, Spoleto was lackluster
We didn't find too much to get excited about with this past festival. Sure, the individual performers were top-notch as usual, but overall the performances were meh-with-a-few-bright-spots, instead of the other way around. The aforementioned bright spots included René Marie, the formidable jazz singer who gives 110 — no, 120 — percent of herself on stage; A Brimful of Asha, the joyful mother-son play by Ravi and Asha Jain; and the Aca Seca Trio, the South American guitar, piano, and percussion trio.
On the other side were the utterly bizarre Facing Goya, an opera that betrayed an obsession with Hitler, and the dance troupe Keigwin + Company, whose performance our overview critic Jon Santiago called "utter nonsense." We have it on good authority, however, that next year's fest will be quite different.
On the good side, Charleston's first art hotel, The Vendue, opens
The Vendue got a wholly new interior and concept this year when Avocet Hospitality Group opened it as an art hotel — meaning that the walls are filled not with bland, emotionless hotel paintings, but with fine contemporary art. The art is curated by Robert and Megan Lange of Robert Lange Studios, who are tasked with putting on two to three exhibits each year. The Vendue is now both an interesting and unique boutique hotel, as well as a beautiful spot to wander through.
The Gibbes Museum closes for renovations
This one is both bummer — no more Gibbes for at least a year — and a good thing, as the new Gibbes will be beautifully transformed inside to match its outer Beaux Arts glory. With renowned museum designer Jeff Daly at the helm, the Gibbes is undergoing massive changes that will allow for a more complete display of the museum's collection, and better flow through the galleries.
Although the Gibbes won't be hosting any exhibits while the work is being done, the museum does still have a full calendar of classes and programs off-site. To see what's happening, visit gibbesmuseum.org.
The Halsey Institute presents the stellar Shepard Fairey-Jasper Johns show
In May, The Halsey opened The Insistent Image: Recurring Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns. The show included several Fairey murals at spots around town, including a massive Andre the Giant at the top of the Francis Marion hotel. Inside the Halsey were new paintings from Fairey's Power and Glory series. In the gallery's smaller room were paintings and prints by the iconic Jasper Johns. We wish that show had stuck around for a lot longer than two months.
Stay up-to-date on all things arts by visiting our Culture Shock blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/cultureshock.