Ashley Arnold dancer and choreographer
Playing with spaces and distances is central to Ashley Arnold's approach to dance. In fact, she formed ARC, an experimental dance group, to address the disconnect between audiences and performers in large productions.
"I like to bring people in closer and change the way they experience dance," she says. "Sometimes people get too caught up in the idea of technique, the idea that something must be done one certain way for it to be legitimate.
"That's not my goal."
Whether through spontaneous performances in public venues or inspiring audiences to attempt expressing an idea through movement, Ashley and her fellow ARC dancers are actively working to get the Lowcountry more involved in dance and performance art.
As a dancer and choreographer, Ashley has studied at the American Dance Festival, an intensive six-week program in North Carolina, and performed everywhere from the North Charleston Performing Arts Center to Marion Square.
Her approach to choreography embraces whatever movement feels true to the idea she is expressing, even the strange twitches and disorientation of insomnia (to prepare for one piece, she stayed awake two days simply to see what changed in her body's movement).
Movement, to Ashley, is simply a language used to communicate ideas, and insomnia or unease are ideas that can be expressed with as much validity as serenity or grace.
"People can worry too much about awkwardness," she says. "I don't know why you should be afraid of that. Awkwardness can actually be very beautiful." —Jason Zwiker
Matthew Bowers multimedia artist and impresario
There is something about the strange urban beauty of industrial landscapes, abandoned buildings, and the shells of old factories falling away with age that attracts mixed-media artist Matthew Bowers.
Call it construction and demolition or the shedding away of the dry, dead cells of a city before the growth of new layers: either way, he'll be there, documenting the process.
Originally from Chicago, Bowers moved to the Lowcountry early on in life, attending middle and high school here. Currently enrolled at the College of Charleston, he made art with whatever tools he had on hand. Photography, documentary filmmaking, web and flash design, screen-printing, and even sculpting the mood of a crowd on a dance floor from the DJ booth — these are all forms he's worked in.
"There is always something you can change or influence," he says. "That's how culture develops, and I would like to help that happen."
Bowers is sending ripples through the water with his efforts to host art parties like Blume, where he deejays, and his work on the internet, both on his personal design site www.manufacturconcept.com and www.beforeandaftercharleston.com, a new site devoted to drawing attention to smaller local art shows and gatherings.
With the view to move to Europe in future years, Bowers is making the most of his time in Charleston, organizing art shows and helping amp up interest in new and innovative art forms and artists in the local area.
"Charleston has so much potential in the arts and it's right on this sort of edge," he says. "Now is the time when people can really affect the way it's going." —Jason Zwiker
Richard Bryant television actor
For Charleston native Richard Bryant, who plays Jeremiah Sherwood on the locally filmed television drama Army Wives, the incentive for film studios to open up shop in the American South is self-evident.
"This entire area, from the coastal plains to the Piedmont and the mountains, is just so beautiful, like a Garden of Eden, and Charleston is really the center of it all," he says. "Films may have started coming when they put in the tax incentives, but it's the scenic beauty of the area that will keep them filming here."
And that sounds great to Bryant, a graduate of Charleston School of the Arts whose family has been in Charleston for 300 years.
"I'm betting on a big studio to set up here, maybe even on Johns Island," he adds. "We have the potential to grow another Hollywood down here."
Bryant has, of course, recently spent time in Los Angeles securing a manager and an agent for his acting career, but he makes no secret of his love for his hometown.
"I understand the importance of acting in Los Angeles or New York, but it would be really hard for me to leave. I love Charleston."
With his role on Army Wives going strong, Bryant, who has also appeared on One Tree Hill, hopes to keep his star rising in the acting field.
"I want to experience everything," he says. "The best thing about acting is that it allows me to delve into other people's brains and see the world through their eyes. It gives me a chance to tell their stories." —Jason Zwiker
Keverlee Burchett poet and literary editor
If you've ever tasted produce freshly plucked from the Earth, still sun-warm as you bite into it, you'll understand the sentiment that compels poet Keverlee Burchett toward verse.
A season of organic farming in North Carolina has given Burchett, a graduate of Charleston County School of the Arts, College of Charleston, and Purdue University, a new sense of direction in her poetry, prose, and teaching style.
"I woke up early each morning and learned to take care of everything from the tomatoes to the chickens," she says. "It made me think of food in a whole new way."
Currently teaching at College of Charleston, she loves to ask her English class to think about food and what it means personally to each of them as they practice arranging their thoughts on paper.
Her passion for organic, locally grown, and sustainable food is matched by her passion for work in nonprofits, giving back to her community through organizations such as the Burke High School writing program and LILA (Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts).
The way she brings it all together is in using her gift for words to inspire others to find greater satisfaction in their food choices.
"I'd like to help raise awareness of local food in Charleston, of the growers on Johns Island, and the choices that are available," she says.
"Culturally and economically, food is important everywhere." —Jason Zwiker
Rachel Gordon fashion designer
The sizzling, long-lingering summers of Charleston provide fashion designer Rachel Gordon with inspiration aplenty.
"I love using vibrant colors and I love long Bohemian-type dresses," she says. "Summer and spring are my favorites."
Bold colors and cool styles work well in a subtropical climate where heat reigns most months of the year.
"I'm really happy where I am," she adds. "The most amazing thing that ever happened to me was Charleston Fashion Week."
Being a featured designer at Charleston Fashion Week brought Gordon's dresses — which already had achieved significant word-of-mouth notability — even greater visibility. Her work has been featured in runway shows and print advertisements and is available at many retail locations around town.
It was a great leap forward for Gordon who, after moving from Maryland to attend the College of Charleston, began simply by designing clothes for herself. As friends began to notice her work, she organized small design shows in her home, and eventually began designing and selling full-time.
"I still design clothes that I love and that I would wear," she says. "I always try to make each piece interesting in some way.
"Classy but with an edge." —Jason Zwiker