Unlike last year's lineup of scandals and shake-ups, 2012 was a quieter time for Charleston's art scene. It was about slow changes, implementing plans, and working toward a better future.
1. Ellen passes the torch ... slowly.
It's been nearly a year since we got the official word that the Office of Cultural Affairs was seeking a new director, but rumors of Ellen Dressler Moryl's retirement had been floating around for a long time prior to that. Moryl has been with the OCA since its founding in 1977, and she also helped create the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, making her an integral part of the city's arts community for decades. This past November, she announced her successor in Scott Watson, a New Yorker boasting experience with arts organizations like the Dublin Fringe Festival and the New York Theater Workshop. Watson will take on his new duties in January, though Moryl will stay on as the artistic director of Piccolo Spoleto. We know we're not the only ones curious to see how this shift will affect the arts in Charleston.
2. The Charleston Ballet Theatre stumbles ... and tries to bounce back.
Last year was tough for the CBT, and 2012 didn't start out much better. In February, a handful of board members stepped down, and the company subsequently struggled to secure funding from wary donors. But by the time October rolled around, the CBT was attempting to sing a new tune. The board welcomed 19 new members and Joe Kelly took over as director of artistic operations, while Jill Eathorne Bahr lost her post as CEO (she now serves as the resident choreographer). According to Bahr, dancers are now more involved in planning, policy decisions, and community involvement, and the staff, board members, dancers, and the community are all considered shareholders in the company. The CBT kicked off a small, quiet 26th season in 2012.
3. Goodbye Manning.
Charleston's contemporary art community mourned when artist Manning Williams passed away in June after a long illness. He was 73. The Charleston native, a College of Charleston grad and professor, was exceptionally versatile but best known for the boldly colored, cartoon-inspired abstract work he created in his later years. He exhibited at the Corrigan Gallery, the Gibbes, and the Gaillard, and you can still find his paintings at the Charleston Airport.
4. The Village Repertory Company finds a home downtown.
At the end of 2011, the Mt. Pleasant-based Village Repertory Company announced they'd be making a big move downtown, and in June, they started renovating the old Meddin Bros. warehouse on Woolfe Street. They had ambitious plans to open in October, but the opening kept getting pushed back due to construction delays and a lack of funding. The theater finally opened to the public last week for The Man Who Came to Dinner, though they've still got a ways to go to complete the project.
5. City breaks ground on the Gaillard.
While the Village people struggled for funding, the Gaillard Auditorium got a good chunk of theirs. We've been hearing plans about the auditorium's extensive renovations for years, and this summer, construction crews finally got to work on the project. Major demolition started happening in October, when crews removed the roof and eventually pretty much demolished the entire building. The finished product will be a new arts center with city offices, a 15,000-square-foot ballroom and exhibition hall, and a theater with 1,800 seats. They're shooting for an October 2014 completion date.
6. Mike Daisey puts the national spotlight on Spoleto.
Spoleto Festival 2012 had its share of memorable shows, from Montreal's gravity-defying Traces to 1927's creepy-cool The Animals and Children Took to the Streets to the sold-out return of Jake Shimabukuro. But nothing was more buzzed about than Mike Daisey's show. The monologist was slated to discuss technology and international business in two shows: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and Teching in India. Then in March, Daisey landed in the hot seat when it was revealed that he had falsified some of the information in Agony and Ecstasy, which he'd performed on This American Life. When he finally took the stage in Charleston in June, he gave us a bold updated version of the show and something new as well: a guilt-laced confessional. Our reviewer gave it a C+.
7. The storytellers descend.
Daisey wasn't the only storyteller who spun a yarn in Charleston this year. Charleston native Jack Hitt joined Daisey on the Spoleto lineup, ironically presenting a show called Making Up the Truth. The music- and monologue-driven Unchained Tour, featuring Neil Gaiman and Edgar Oliver, rolled into town on a big blue schoolbus. And NPR's StoryCorps trailer parked in Ansonborough Field for a few weeks, gathering locals' sure-to-be-juicy tales. In more traditional literary news, Blue Bicycle Books' YALLFest returned for its second year with hundreds of YA authors and tween fans descending on downtown.
8. Colin Quashie mounts a powerful show at Redux.
The city's visual arts scene was on its game in 2012, with admirable exhibitions at City Gallery (Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore) and the Halsey (Don ZanFagna, Aggie Zed, and Motoi Yamamoto), just to name a few. But the one that's really stuck with us was Colin Quashie's The Plantation (Plan-ta-shun) at Redux last spring. The artist took a deceptively playful look at issues like slavery and racism in the South by using coloring books, a customized Monopoly board (painted as a mural on the side of the building), and an ad campaign for "J. Crow" featuring a photograph of a slave with brutal scars all over his back. The gallery has never been as quiet as it was during that eye-opening reception. Here's to more work from the talented artist.
9. Contemporary artist exodus.
Last year, we lost some of our best contemporary art galleries. This year, we bid adieu to several of our artists. Painter Tim Hussey moved to Los Angeles. Scott Debus, a founder of Kulture Klash, moved to Austin. Street artist Patch Whisky moved to Savannah, leaving behind a number of local murals including one in City Paper's office. Photographer Cyle Suesz moved to NYC, and Rebecca West Fraser (Contemporary Charleston 2011) moved to San Francisco. There are still some major contemporary players residing in Charleston — we just hope they'll stay here.