Sunday, July 15, 2012

South Carolina and Our Arts Struggle

(Our Governor in a cost-saving measure has pulled all the funding from the SC Arts Commission. She did the same thing last year and the Legislature overturned her veto. So this year the very fine SC Arts Commission has continued to operate. Now this year--the Governor is trying once more to dismantle the Arts Commission. Our Legislators vote this Tuesday on if they will override the Veto. If the Arts Commission ceases to exist--this State will be poorer than it is right now on the national scene. I wrote this article in Sunday's Greenville News in response to this sad situation.  This photo was taken when my son was 15 along with his self-portrait.)

Let me tell you an art story. When we moved to South Carolina our son was in the third grade. He had a hard time reading until a teacher wouldn’t let him get by on his personality anymore. Slowly he began to learn. He lived in Clemson and felt like he didn’t fit in because he was not athletic. But an art teacher took him under her wings and opened a door to a world he never envisioned. Moving toward High School his interest in art kept growing. The School had an excellent art program. He was interested in music and joined the High School chorale. His art teachers encouraged him to attend Governor’s School in Greenville. He began to discover some of his own gifts and won state and national awards for his work in art. The School recommended that our son apply to the Art Institute in Chicago. He received a scholarship and studied with some of the finest teachers in the country. After college he worked for a Stock Company in Chicago and managed the Getty Photograph Collection. His painting gave way to photography. Those wonderful Getty photographs must have taken root. He began to photograph Bed and Breakfasts. His business has expanded until he flies all over the country photographing Bed and Breakfasts. He has found his place—all those years of not fitting in are behind him.  

This is not simply a brag story about our son. It is a testimony that could be repeated time after time. I have often wondered where he would be and what he would be doing if it had not been for that first art teacher and his art teacher in high school who challenged him to find his way. Across this state in cities and rural areas, the South Carolina Arts Commission has been the lifeline for thousands of students. The Commission covers a lot of territory: writing, dance, theatre, visual arts, and pottery. But they also provide communities with a gathering place to discover art in all its many forms. It is also a chance for community building where people who would otherwise never meet, find each other and discover the potential that rests in all of us.  

The State Legislators will meet on July 17. There are a multitude of reasons why our representatives should override the Governor’s veto. South Carolina will be known as the only state in the Union without an Arts Commission. The Moore School of Business at USC has discovered that creative industries in South Carolina contribute more than $9.2 billion to the state’s economy annually and help support more than 78,000 jobs. These industries bring in over $570 million dollars in tax revenue to the state annually. Industries considering moving to South Carolina will certainly be asking about the state of the arts here. If we defund the Art Commission not only will this Commission lose 1.9 million dollars and a special one-time $500,000 grant from the state—but the million dollars the National Endowment for the Arts gives us annually will disappear. Without State funding—this money will not be available. Those 100,000 students in 338 schools that have participated in a multitude of art programs will be the losers. 

But let’s not get lost in these statistics. Let us think of all those boys and girls out there trying to find their way—who will never have the kind of support my own son found in South Carolina. The Budget needs of this state and nation are serious. But the vitality and creativity that flows from the Arts Commission is a central part of who we are as a people. If you think this program is important contact your Legislators before Tuesday.

(This article was printed in the Greenville News (SC) July 15, 2012)

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