We found the city's best kept secret — and we're telling 

A Creative Morning in Charleston

lLocal restaurateur Brooks Reitz joins the creative crew to speak on the theme "embracing ugly"

Mac Kilduff

lLocal restaurateur Brooks Reitz joins the creative crew to speak on the theme "embracing ugly"

When talking to the founders of Charleston's chapter of CreativeMornings (CMCHS), you can't help but feel like you've been let in on some secret. "Charleston has a cool kids' club, and we want to represent people who aren't necessarily a part of that," says CMCHS founder Sophie Treppendahl. Sitting with Treppendahl and her fellow CMCHS organizers Megan Schaeffer and Caroline Howard, you feel like they're part of the very club they're talking about — because what they do is pretty cool.

CreativeMornings is one of those things that has some people exclaiming "How did you not know about that?" and others asking "What are you talking about?" In short: CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. The series started in 2008 when founder Tina Roth Eisenberg decided that New York's creative community needed an ongoing and accessible event. The free, coffee-fueled mornings began.

CreativeMornings is held one morning a month in 112 cities around the world. Charleston joined this creative community last summer when Treppendahl, at the urging of the local creative branding agency Fuzzco, applied to start a chapter in the city.

Fuzzco had seen that CMCHS was calling for applications to start a new chapter in Charleston, and they immediately reached out to the painter and mixed media artist, knowing that she would be the perfect fit for such a venture. Treppendahl had worked with Fuzzco on past projects, and the agency told her they'd support her if she started CMCHS. They stuck to their word — Fuzzco creates all of the CMCHS designs for Treppendahl and crew.

Treppendahl says she applied right before the deadline. "I think I may have been the only applicant," she says with a shrug. "No one in Charleston knew about CreativeMornings." The reason? Schaeffer thinks it's because Charleston is somewhat isolated from other cities, potentially limiting the growth of its creative community. "We don't have any cities close by that we're connected to," she says.

We attended our first CMCHS last month, and we can attest — it hit us hard in the creative feels. Held in the beautiful, old Library Society building on King Street, March's theme was "Ink." (Each month's theme is used internationally, so every city chooses a speaker based on the same topic.) Columbia's Sara Thomas, of the screen printing company Half & Half, spoke about the screen printing process, showing a video that detailed each intricate step. We were wowed. As Schaeffer says, CMCHS will "make you learn something you didn't know you wanted to know."

The setup for the lecture is pretty simple. For the first 30 minutes or so, people mingle, drink coffee, and eat whatever's provided for breakfast. The refreshments are all free.

Some people may already be turning their heads away from what sounds like a terrifying morning: mingling with strangers. But Treppendahl, Schaeffer, and Howard say that one of the main goals of CreativeMornings is networking. Creative people meet more creative people that they may not have met otherwise.

click to enlarge Treppendahl - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Treppendahl

Of course, the CMCHS women also agree that the experience is powerful even if you don't use it for some kind of personal gain. There's something invaluable about throwing yourself out there, either to speak or listen to someone speak about something new. Charleston is full of artistic minds, but often, they forget to intermingle. "People in visual arts already know about all the [visual] arts events," Schaeffer says. CMCHS creates a space for people to learn about all facets of Charleston's creative community, not just the ones that fit their niche.

After mingling, guests sit down and listen to a speaker ­— a skilled creative mind who creates, fixes, organizes, or studies things you may know little to nothing about — speak for 20 minutes about his or her skill. Then you finish your coffee and you linger, or you leave and wait to hear which speaker will present next.

The first event was held last September, with the theme of "Color." "We stuffed 88 people into Fuzzco," Schaeffer says. "And there was a waiting list, I think." That early success has only grown each month.

October saw infamous CofC professor Paul Roof speaking about "Crossover." Roof, who is the founder of the Holy City Beard and Moustache Society, was let go from Charleston Southern University after he and his beard appeared on one of Holy City Brewing's beer cans. He was later hired by the College of Charleston.

Treppendahl opened October's morning by explaining Charleston's crossovers: "We have the ocean and downtown. Tourists and locals," she said. Roof's introduction called him both a professor and an epic beard grower. While those are very different skills — it ain't easy growing a 'stache like Roof's — they speak to a kind of crossover. And Roof's firing from CSU and hiring at CofC is a literal crossover.

"It just made sense," says Treppendahl about selecting Roof. Howard seconds this point when speaking about how CMCHS chooses a speaker for each theme. "It's like ... 'I know who that is. I know who that has to be,' " she says.

Treppendahl says that one of her favorite parts of CMCHS is that the audience changes depending on who the speaker is — although she'd like to see even more diversity. "I want the whole group to change," she says. "But I want everyone to come back, too."

Treppendahl's welcoming attitude has been the key to the program's success, say Howard and Schaeffer. "We're not interested in formality," Schaeffer says. "We want people [to see Sophie] and think, 'I can be friends with this person,'" she says.

This low-key approach extends to audience interactions as well. "It's not a business meeting," Schaeffer says.

"You're allowed to talk to someone next to you if you don't know them," Howard adds.

CMCHS's organizers want to expand upon their current success, and that includes growing audience demographics. Currently, participants are mostly between the ages of 22 to 35. Treppendahl and her gang want to change that.

"We're working on the demographic. It's a lot harder to say, 'Hey mom with four kids, can you come join us on a Friday morning?' " Treppendahl explains. "[But] you don't grow as a creative if you don't do different things." That means interacting with people outside of your comfort, age, and creative zone.

It also means having speakers talk who aren't necessarily in the arts. "Just because someone is not an artist, doesn't mean he's not a creative thinker," Howard says. This sentiment is appropriate for April's speaker, Anthony Haro, head of the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition. After Howard and Treppendahl both met separately with Haro, they knew he would fit the bill for April's theme: Humility.

"He's going to talk about the process of educating younger people about the homeless," says Howard. Haro, who is not an artist per se, will be offering visionary solutions and ideas on a topic that is timely here, given the recent campaigns for and against the homeless and panhandlers.

CreativeMornings is certainly a fun and different way for people to get together and learn about the skills of their peers. Clearly, though, it's more than that. CMCHS reverberates in ways that cocktail hours at art openings may not. The idea is to connect Charlestonians with other Charlestonians and transcend our fairly small city to speak to the kinds of ideas, issues, problems, and solutions that people are coming up with around the world.

The CMCHS crew (which is made up of about 10 core people, almost all of whom are under the age of 25) has learned a lot from hosting these mornings. "We've seen the kindness of local businesses. We operate on almost 100 percent donations," says Schaeffer. She says that businesses are asking to sponsor CMCHS's next event, which is a pretty big deal, since the group is entirely volunteer-led.

"We're not the only people in Charleston asking for free stuff," Schaeffer says. She doesn't want to shamelessly plug, so we'll do it for her: CMCHS needs donations. Treppendahl, Schaeffer, and the rest of the chapter's leaders all have part- and full-time jobs. Donations go towards things like, well, paying sponsors. "It's a common courtesy thing," says Schaeffer. "It would be nice to pay people for gas, at least."

Through networking, working with local businesses, and blasting social media with upcoming events, CreativeMornings Charleston wants to have an impact on this city. "We want to make everything a little more seamless in this town," says Schaeffer. "We're the connection."

If you feel the creative spark — the gals told us they've seen it with their very eyes in audiences every month — make sure to reserve a spot at this month's CreativeMorning. We apologize to everyone who's in on the secret, because the competition for tickets just got stiff.

So make sure you reserve your ticket for Fri., April 24 to see Anthony Haro speak. There are about 130 spots up for grabs, and there's always a waitlist. The cool kids' club just got bigger.


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