By Kat Walsh
The Beaufort Arts Council (BAC) is pulling back on its services and refocusing its mission, which has taken some people by surprise.
The BAC announced recently that it will continue to promote local artists and galleries via grants, printed materials and online presence, but will discontinue offering classes and operating a gallery.
The BAC purchased the old jail on King and Monson streets in Beaufort earlier this year for $390,000 to turn it into the King Street Arts Center, which they said in September would include BAC offices, an art gallery and an extensive curriculum of art classes.
The BAC says it will now focus on partnering with other organizations in supporting artists, exhibits and education.
“This isn’t an emergency or bad news at all. It’s actually very exciting,” said Delene Miller, BAC board president.
“Our long-term vision – which includes the King Street Arts Center – remains the same. We are essentially taking a step back.
“We need to get back into being a grant-giving organization that will provide much needed support and opportunity for local artists.”
The refined mission also better fits the Beaufort Arts District and its mission to become an arts destination where artists will work, live and collaborate, according to the center.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What differentiates us as an arts school – what will attract artists to come to Beaufort to learn about art and to be able live here and sell their art? What are those programs that will do that?’ ” said Miller. “Our new streamlined focus will be instrumental in providing the art education component for the residents of this district as well.”
While the BAC will no longer directly offer classes or operate a gallery, it will continue to support artists, exhibits and education through partnerships.
One upcoming partnership with the Technical College of the Lowcountry has already created significant buzz.
“ ‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under the Technical College of the Lowcountry?’ I asked a group, and no one knew,” said Miller. “And it’s a fabulous tunnel.”
And a fabulous canvas for what’s coming next: The Community Mural Project.
A collaboration between the BAC and TCL, the Community Mural Project will involve artists, Mather alumni, schools and community members to paint the tunnel (which runs underneath Ribaut Road, connecting the east and west sides of the campus) with a mural that represents unity as well as the Mather Story.
Led by local sea island artist and BAC board member Diane Dunham-Britton, the project will kick off on Mather History and Education Day on Feb. 19, 2017 at the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Through another partnership with Adams Outdoor Advertising, the center will continue the popular ArtPop program.
An acronym for art and public outdoor project, ArtPop is a juried competition that allows local artists to be displayed on available local media space.
Miller cites TCL as an example of how partnerships will allow BAC to continue supporting area artists and art education.
“Beyond the mural project, they’ve allowed us to use the Mather Building however we best see fit,” she said.
“We are evaluating the use of the building right now and in January, we’ll determine the best use from an operations and education perspective.”
The space – until recently used by TCL as a center for testing and assessment – has a significant story of its own.
In 1867, Rachel Crane Mather started The Mather School, an Industrial Training School for Freedmen to educate the daughters of liberated slaves.
The current building on Ribaut Road is the library of the original Mather School.
Miller sees significance in the building’s history in education and believes the BAC will continue the tradition through arts education.
“Since its inception back in 1867, the school has seen many changes. But one thing remains constant – the belief that every human being deserves a chance to further their education.”