Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Celebrate the Arts at Greenville’s Artisphere

Posted 5/11/2012 6:19:00 PM

If you’re an art lover and you haven’t been to Greenville, it’s time to start packing. Artisphere, the upstate’s premier arts festival, hits town May 11-13.

The city, which is home to world-class museums, terrific theaters, stand out galleries and the stellar Peace Center for the Performing Arts, is a great place to visit at any time of year, but during Artisphere, the streets explode with color, life and excitement.

Artisphere, now in its 8th year, is a three-day celebration that takes art out of the galleries and brings it to the streets, with hundreds of artists taking over Main Street as well as various venues around town.

The centerpiece of Artisphere is Artists’ Row. There is an intense competition to win one of the spots in this juried outdoor art show. This year 120 artists were chosen from a pool of 884 applicants.

Invited artists set up camp in tents that line the streets in the historic West End of downtown Greenville. It’s a great chance to meet with artists from around the country. This year’s artists hail from 26 different states and one is making the trek from England to participate in this growing festival.

Even with Artisphere’s national scope, South Carolina artists will make a strong showing this year on Artists’ Row. In fact, 12 local artists will exhibit their work at the show.

One local artist participating in the festival this year is Michael McDunn, a Greenville native who makes incredible handmade wooden furniture.

“Artisphere is so important,” McDunn says, “because it raises people’s awareness of the artists and the quality of art in Greenville.”

Indeed, McDunn will have several neighbors displaying their work alongside his. Work by Greenville area artists at this year’s Artisphere range from Kent Ambler’s woodcut prints to Lynn Greer’s evocative, colorful watercolors and Danielle Miller’s playful jewelry.

Another one of the artists whose work will be displayed is Jacki Newell. After moving to Greenville several years ago, Newell found artistic inspiration in her new hometown; many of her paintings depict Greenville street scenes. After visiting Artisphere her first year in town, she became determined to participate in the festival. This year, she says, “I am so excited to actually be a part of it!”

Artisphere also provides a great chance to enjoy Greenville’s vibrant downtown and, perhaps, feel like you’re stepping into one of Newell’s paintings. In addition to the visual art, the streets are usually lined with performers. Last year, a local dance troupe performed a pas de deux in the middle of the street and a glass artist parked his kiln next to the sidewalk and treated festival-goers to a downtown glassmaking demonstration.

Amidst all of the art and music you’ll also see people enjoying all of the everyday pleasures that make Greenville such a special place. Couples sit at outdoor cafes, children lick cones of gelato from Luna Roso and families linger in Falls Park enjoying the sound of the Reedy River rushing by.

In Falls Park, you’ll also find perennial Artisphere favorite, Brian Olson on the Wells Fargo Art in Action Stage. What is “Art in Action?” Olson’s website describes it as “an explosion: a colorful display of paint, energy, music and passion.” Before a live audience, the artist creates large-scale portraits of celebrities using up to three brushes in each hand as well as his hands, arms and elbows. It’s thrilling for the audience to watch a familiar face emerge from the brushstrokes. Olson also choreographs the creations, setting his painting to rock-and-roll soundtracks.

Greenville happens to be one of the tastiest cities in the south, so it’s no surprise that Artisphere also includes a nod to the culinary arts with its Culinary Arts Café. You won’t find corn dogs, elephant ears or other, typical fair food here. These “artists” are strictly gourmet and offer a chance to sample cuisine from some of the best restaurants in town – all at a decidedly “fair” price.

For just $4 you can try delicious Yukon chips with Blue Cheese from Larkins on the River or Mussels Mariniere from the Trappe Door. If you’re wondering how you’re going to eat mussels while exploring the festival, never fear: there’s plenty of seating in the outdoor café, along with some great, live blues music. This year the Culinary Café will also feature a wine tasting, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.

If you’ve got children, check out Kidsphere, where young artists will have the chance to try their hand at creating Japanese carp wind socks, paper masks, picture frames and more. Kidsphere also will give children the chance to participate in making a community mural and meet face to face with kid-friendly artists. What a wonderful opportunity to get kids excited about the arts.

Although most of Artisphere’s events are focused downtown, it’s really an event that brings the whole town to life. While you’re there, explore the Greenville County Museum of Art’s fabulous collection of Andrew Wyeth watercolors or see an authentic Faberge Egg at the Bob Jones University Gallery at Heritage Green. Artisphere brings some of the best artistic talents in the nation to Greenville, but the real joy of the event is seeing how much talent lies right there in the city limits.