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It’s Official: Spartanburg is an Arts Town

Thursday, February 04, 2016

By Latria Graham
Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Music on Main, one of Spartanburg’s celebrated weekly warm-weather events, ceases at the beginning of winter, but there are plenty of things to do within city limits. With over 1,335 annual events and festivals, 43 galleries and art exhibit spaces, 21 indoor live performance venues, and nine outdoor performance venues, options abound, and most are free. There is no famine of options here.

Many galleries and venues are open seven days a week, and there is something to do 365 days of the year. These offerings and their accessibility have garnered statewide and national attention.

Spartanburg is the latest municipality to acquire the Cultural Arts District designation from the South Carolina Arts Commission, and it joins Lancaster and Rock Hill as the only towns in South Carolina that hold this honorable distinction.

Pursuing and acquiring this arts accolade was the passion project of Jennifer Evins, the president of the Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg, and other artistic constituents who wished to foster the arts community in Spartanburg. Early stages of the planning began in the late 1980s, and the city published a cultural plan in 1993 that set Spartanburg on course for success. The goal was to create an area that would serve as a focal point to brand the city’s unique cultural identity and embrace its historic significance, while also revitalizing neighborhoods and increasing the quality of life for Spartanburg residents. This included bringing cultural assets to neighborhoods that may feel isolated or excluded, and uplifting artists to create a more diverse cultural product.

Culture Counts—a planning project that sought to measure and quantify the cultural assets in Spartanburg County—was completed in 2011. The undertaking created a map of artistic endeavors that the city could share with the rest of the world.

"Jennifer Evins spent a year of her life counting up all the artistic assets in these four blocks—she had a spreadsheet three feet long," said Betsy Teter, executive director of the Hub City Writers Project. "Just through the force of her personality and sheer will, she pushed Spartanburg into the limelight at the state level. We're all looking forward to the roll-out of the cultural district."

In 2012 the South Carolina Arts Commission created its guidelines for the state’s cultural district designation, and Spartanburg was ready.

What is the cultural district?

A cultural district is defined as an area that is readily identifiable to visitors as the heart of Spartanburg’s cultural, artistic and economic activity. The area encompasses four square blocks radiating from the intersection of Main Street and Church Street. The area stretches from from Barnet Park to Spartanburg Community College's downtown campus on Kennedy Street and the boundary ends by Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium.

These blocks contain galleries, live performance venues, theaters, artist studios, museums, arts centers, arts schools, and public art pieces. The area also contains businesses like restaurants, banks or parks whose main purpose is not arts focused, but that regularly make their spaces available to artists or create opportunities for the public to encounter the arts.

Words from Jennifer Evins serve as an invitation:

“Come on, join the party, we’re all going to do something great. We’re all on our way to feeling good and celebrating, honoring and reflecting on what it means to be part of something larger.”

It’s important to note that the experiences in the district aren’t always Eurocentric—yes, Spartanburg has a symphony, ballet and art museum but there also are forums for spoken word, folklore performances and jazz concerts. Dropping in on a workshop or taking a class at the Chapman Cultural Center allows you to see how the locals develop their creative muscles and add joy, depth and nuance to their lives and the lives of the people that interact with their art.

The cultural district’s arts offerings also highlight quieter arts areas that are sometimes overlooked. The Hub City Bookshop gives the humanities a physical presence. Spartanburg has numerous green spaces that are rife with public art—from fountains to statues, and deliberate horticultural practices. (See many of these in a new book, On Common Ground, available at the Hub City Bookshop). The district’s offerings illuminate the history of the area, and places like the Spartanburg Regional History Museum pay homage to the area’s history and local traditions. Presentations and exhibitions make history tangible for those interested in the town’s legacy.

Evins says the cultural district is just the beginning, a jump-off point to see other cultural assets in Spartanburg County (which boasts almost three times the amount of creative cultural capital as the city, according to her count). The cultural district also will link visitors to other assets that aren’t specifically in the district. All of Spartanburg’s colleges have galleries and performances that are open to the public.

Keep your eyes peeled for new experiences and temporary installations.

There was a competition to create Spartanburg’s Cultural Arts District logo, and soon there will be a new competition in which entrants describe how they would indicate which square blocks comprise the Arts district. The winner will be chosen this spring and the idea will be implemented in June.

Later in the summer of 2016, Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light, the town’s $1 million partnership in the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Public Art Challenge will bring temporary art installations to public spaces in 10 city neighborhoods. You can find out more about that here.

There is an art experience to be had everywhere. The district is still growing and there will be new additions all the time.



Latria Graham, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Latria Graham is writer, editor and cultural critic currently living in Spartanburg. Her interests revolve around the dynamics of race, gender norms, class, nerd culture, and—yes, football. You can find out more about her here.

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