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Midlands Arts Scene Growing by Leaps and Bounds

At the center of the Midlands sits the Columbia Museum of Art, the only museum in the country to earn the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. It’s something for everyone in the area to be proud of, but it’s far from the only local place to be for art lovers.

The Midlands’ arts community is growing, and expanding from Main Street and the Vista to some places one might not expect. West Columbia last week unveiled its new interactive community art project, Art on State, in a spot formerly occupied by nothing but parked vehicles and dumpsters. In Cayce, work is currently underway to transform a water tank into a work of art paying homage to the University of South Carolina.

The water tank project is the first organized by Public Works of HeART, a nonprofit founded by former Gamecock football player Will Bryan to serve as “a social benefit company that would beautify communities, create awareness of needs, and give money to good causes – especially those that help people in need.” Squares on the water tank are available to be sponsored by any member of the community, with proceeds going to Harvest Hope Food Bank.

Outside the box thinking like Bryan’s appears often in the Midlands’ arts community. A big crowd packed the USC Alumni Center May 26 for Time for Art, an event organized by the United Way of the Midlands Young Leaders Society along with Columbia Opportunity Resource. Attendees bid on works by local artists, but the bids consisted of volunteer hours pledged to local nonprofits rather than cash. It allowed art lovers to add to their collections without budget worries while supporting good causes.

The 701 Center for Contemporary Art also goes beyond the usual expected offerings, recently hosting a Dada Gala(da), at which guests were encouraged to “dress Dada,” pushing the envelope of fashion as Dada artists did in many disciplines. The Center will also host camps for young artists this summer, as will the Columbia Museum of Art. The Nickelodeon Theatre offers art lovers a chance to see many films not available in other places, and also encourages future stars with summer camps, including one giving teens a chance to make their own horror movie, to be screened at the Nick.

The Nick and Central Carolina Community Foundation also played big parts in Indie Grits, the local film festival which has won widespread acclaim in providing a showcase for local, regional, and national filmmakers. The festival focused on the 2015 floods and rebuilding this year, and moved some of its events from Main Street to the banks of the Congaree.

Art galleries are found in many spots in the Midlands, with the Vista offering one hub, and sponsoring events like Vista Nights and Artista Vista, designed to bring new eyes to the art and deliver special new offerings for those accustomed to the scene. Just across the Congaree River, West Columbia’s Art on State is only one of many attractions, including Frame of Mind, an “optical gallery” which most recently hosted an exhibit called “Censored,” for which owner Mark Plessinger said “We encouraged artists to create in your face, raw, alternate and unexpected points of view.”

Saturday mornings on Main Street bring crowds year round to the Soda City market, which brings something new each week, with artists showing and selling and demonstrating works of many shapes, sizes, and disciplines. From jewelry to woodwork to paintings, shoppers often leave with something they might never have expected to own.

Near the heart of Soda City, of course, is the Museum of Art. “We’ve been recognized as a catalyst for our downtown to come alive, and we’ve brought new energy to our community,” said Executive Director Karen Brosius. “This year our hard work together resulted in the highest honors from both the state and the nation.” The museum offers a wide variety of exhibits (as does the nearby South Carolina State Museum) and events like Arts and Draughts for the more casual art lovers.

“We know the art museum is a centerpiece, the crown jewel of our arts infrastructure here,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “We are famously hot and surprisingly cool.”

Pictured: Visitors checking out local art at the Soda City market (photo by Allen Wallace)

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