Touring Creativity

Local Artist open their studios to art lovers in the Midlands

Forrest Clonts courtesy of Flock & Rally

The creative spirit is alive and well in the city of Columbia. With a plethora of established artists, as well as burgeoning painters and sculptures, there is something for every art lover’s discerning eye to behold. Many of the walls in homes around the Capital City are adorned with originals from Columbia’s own.

On March 23 and 24, a wonderful opportunity arises for the community to learn more about the vast talent that permeates this city. Columbia Open Studios, now in its third year after being resurrected following a three-year hiatus, presents a free weekend-long tour of local artists’ studios. Art lovers travel from studio to studio and learn more about art and the artists, possibly finding new special pieces for their collections along the way.

701 Center for Contemporary Art organizes Open Studios. The nonprofit visual art center promotes the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of contemporary art, the creative process and the role of art and artists in the community. Wim Roefs, chairman of the board of 701 CCA, believes Open Studios is great for the artists, the public and the city as a whole. “The City of Columbia is increasingly trying to position itself as a cultural tourism destination for people inside and outside of South Carolina,” he says. “An event like Columbia Open Studios can be an important building block for achieving that. In one weekend, you see a lot of art, meet a variety of artists, and get to experience the city.”

Open Studios is a great business and awareness-building opportunity for participating artists as well, who have the opportunity to invite and receive people into their studios for the weekend. “They are being handed an audience that they otherwise may not have had,” adds Wim. “The artists can talk to people, show them their art, engage them directly and possibly sell some art in the process.”

It’s an opportunity that is not lost on the artists. “Open Studios provides artists the opportunity to educate attendees about our work,” says Alicia Leeke, CEO of Fine Art by Alicia Leeke and an Open Studios participant. “I have several works in series, including landscapes, cityscapes and abstracts. People who attend Open Studios have the opportunity to learn why I choose work in these series. They also can find out what other projects I’ve got mapped out and plan to launch later.”

Open Studios gives visitors an opportunity to take a rare behind-the-scenes look at the artists and their studios. “Getting the chance to see into an artist’s creative space is like getting to go into a magician’s lair or an inventor’s laboratory. They’re full of such odd and interesting things in addition to the artwork,” says Amanda Ladymon, owner of Ladybug Art Studios and participating artist. Amanda also is exhibition and event coordinator at S&S Art Supply and an adjunct professor at U.S.C. and Columbia College. “You get the opportunity to see what inspires the artist, what drives them.”

Anne Sinclair, 701 CCA board member, finds the awareness of the arts and its endless diversity is strengthened through Open Studios. “For me, to talk with artists in their own studios and hear how they arrived at their approach is fascinating,” she says. She also finds Open Studios a wonderful opportunity to view the artists’ works and then later potentially seek out an artist that interested her and make a purchase. This no-pressure viewing of art is an added benefit to visitors. “Visitors can go through the studios without the expectation of having to buy,” says Wim. “The studios are open; it’s free and there is no pressure whatsoever.”

Mary Gilkerson, participating artist and owner of Mary Gilkerson Studio agrees. “Usually people view art in very different contexts – art galleries or museums – that can at times be intimidating. Studios tend to be less intimidating for new viewers.”

Open Studios attracts a variety of viewers, both young and old, because it is a family and budget friendly event. “My wife, Ella, and I always bring our two daughters, ages three and six, to Open Studios,” says Tristan Weinkle, DVM, of South Carolina Veterinary Specialists, a sponsor of the event. “The girls not only love to meet the artists and see their work but also to learn about the materials they use and how they do what they do. It is not unusual that one of them ends up on the floor in one studio or another with a paintbrush and a sheet of paper or working a ball of clay. These experiences are important for us all.”

And while it might seem a bit unorthodox for a veterinary specialist organization to be a sponsor of an arts event, it actually underscores the admiration and appreciation Midlands residents have for the arts. “We recognize that the arts are an essential ingredient to a vibrant community,” Tristan says. “An active arts community is vital for the growth of cultural offerings that any city should be able to offer and, therefore, vital to the positive growth of the city in general.”

The explosion of the arts has no doubt had a positive impact on the Midlands. The diversity of venues, including Columbia Museum of Art, the South Carolina State Museum, 701 CCA, the Nickelodeon Theater, Trustus, the South Carolina Philharmonic and the Koger Center, among others, not to mention all the gifts that the University of South Carolina offers, are helping Columbia become a regional cultural destination. Anne sees Open Studios as a part of the cultural hub that Columbia is creating – a place where creativity is welcomed and encouraged, and that brings great benefit to local businesses. Open Studios had 10,000 studio visits in 2012, up from 4,000 in 2011. And many of those visitors enjoyed breakfast, lunch and shopping during their tour, contributing to the local economy. “Open Studios visitors have an immediate economic impact on the City of Columbia,” says Wim.

Of those 10,000 studio visits, many likely were unaware what kind of artwork they preferred until they actually saw it in the studio. “You get a fabulous variety of visitors who may not know what kind of art they like,” says Lyssa Harvey, an Open Studio participant and 701 CCA board member. “By seeing so many different types of art, they can see the breadth of what different artists have to offer. I think shopping for art in an artist’s studio is the best way to buy.” Mary agrees and believes Open Studios does a lot to educate viewers about the range of what is going on in the Columbia Metropolitan area, as well as helping them develop their own eye for what they find intriguing and what works for their individual needs.

What’s more, Alicia believes Open Studios affords new and experienced collectors with the opportunity to view an artist’s entire body of work and to check for consistency and collectability, while also learning what to expect to pay for certain pieces of art. “Researching art and finding pieces you love is the key to buying art and building a collection,” she says.

No studio on the tour is alike, providing even more interest to those visiting Open Studios. Visitors follow their guidebooks and maps to professional, rented spaces, such as Tapp’s Arts Center, the Studios at the Arcade, Vista Studios or Studio Carlisle, as well as to repurposed spaces in an artist’s home. They’ll even visit some artist’s businesses that double as their galleries or studios. For artists who also serve in other professions, Open Studios provides a new way for them to promote both businesses. As a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice, Lyssa’s office doubles as her art gallery. “When I bring people into my office, I also get to speak about my profession as a therapist for children and families,” she says. “When you get to meet the person behind the art, it provides another dimension that makes you more interested in the art.”

Art enthusiasts and novices alike will have ample opportunity to learn about the art and the artist during Open Studios weekend, which includes other events in addition to studio tours. On March 21, from 7 to 9 p.m., 701 CCA will host a preview party on the 2nd floor at 701 Whaley, featuring all of the nearly 60 participating artists. Admission is $5 for members of 701 CCA and $10 for non-members. An exhibition of Open Studios artists will also be featured at 701 Whaley from March 17 to 24 in the community art gallery.

It’s a gathering of creative minds, a tour of creativity that no one interested in the arts should miss. For more information, visit 

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