The 30th Annual South Carolina Humanities Festival kicked off with the opening of an art exhibition at the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center on Thursday night.

Humanities Festival artwork

Art is displayed in the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center’s new exhibition “Artists Teaching Artists.” The opening of the exhibit doubled as the kick-off of the South Carolina Humanities Festival in Orangeburg.

Organizers said it set the tone for the festival by celebrating the community and its art.

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The Humanities Festival includes a weekend of community events, including live entertainment, tours of historic downtown churches and the Edisto Memorial Gardens and events at the library, leading into the annual Taste of Orangeburg.

Humanities Festival begins today

The exhibition titled “Artists Teaching Artists,” celebrates two Claflin and two South Carolina State art program graduates who have since become art teachers, said Vivian Glover, director of community arts and development at the Fine Arts Center. She was also a member of the festival planning committee,

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The event also featured food, wine and music while attendees viewed the featured artwork and interacted with the artists and other community members.

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The Humanities Festival moves to different South Carolina cities each year to honor their unique history, culture and resources, South Carolina Humanities Director Randy Akers said.

“A lot of times in our communities, folks who live there really don’t know the history of the area extremely well,” he said.

Aside from getting residents more connected with their community, the festival will also help promote Orangeburg as a destination for people from other areas taking day trips, he said.

“It’s a great way to experience Orangeburg,” he said.

In the three decades since the festival began, it has been held in 23 cities, but Orangeburg has never hosted the event. That changed this year, when Claflin University partnered with city and county council to host the event, Akers said.

The festival will hopefully connect community members, businesses and organizations for future projects, he said.

“What’s important about that, from our standpoint, is that a lot of times these people will come back and work on another project,” he said. “They know each other a little bit better. And especially they’re going to know about the humanities and the resources and grant funds and things that we have. And so hopefully they’ll work with us. And we can fund larger, new projects in Orangeburg.”

South Carolina Humanities most recently gave grant money for the redevelopment of the historic All Star Bowling building and the relocation of the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum, he said.

Orangeburg City Councilwoman L. Zimmerman Keitt attended Thursday’s event and said the festival will educate children so they get involved with the humanities in the community.

Keitt said city council is in the early stages of planning an annual fall humanities festival.

“There are things that people wouldn’t ordinarily see if it wasn’t for the festival. So the humanities festival is very important,” she said.

Glover said the festival planning committee will base plans for the future on what works this year. She hopes the festival will become a fall tradition for the community and bring in outsiders or those who haven’t visited the city in a long time.

“There is culture here, and there’s cultural heritage here, and there’s tradition here, and we should be very proud of it,” she said.

Several pieces displayed in the exhibition dealt with politics, race and segregation. Glover said the diverse crowd attending the event at the Fine Arts Center, which originally was a segregated swimming area, was evidence of the legacy of the city that should be celebrated.

“If they know the history or not, they’re part of something,” she said. “I think it is quite remarkable.”

The four artists featured in the exhibition were Claflin graduates Damion Johnson and Jasmyne Wall and S.C. State graduates Alvin Glen and Keith Tolen. Glen, who recently retired after 43 years of teaching art, said he was glad the festival came to Orangeburg.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Glen said. “It’ll bring attention to art in areas where normally you don’t really see it.”

Isaiah McGee, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Claflin University, said he decided to ask for forgiveness rather than permission when he volunteered Orangeburg to host this year’s festival before consulting city or county council. McGee is a SC Humanities board member and member of festival planning committee.

Luckily, city and county officials have been very supportive of the festival and the potential to use it as a basis for an annual community humanities festival, he said.

“They’re on board because it’s something positive,” he said. “So this is the beginning of that planning stage for the future. … This is kind of the sample, if you would, to give them what could happen.”

Humanities festivals allow residents to learn about and from the community’s past and promote unity in the community, he said.

Art

Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center Director of Community Arts and Development Vivian Glover, from left, stands with artists Keith Tolen, Damion Johnson, Alvin Glen and Jasmyne Wall, as well as South Carolina Humanities Director Randy Akers.

“They say nothing good comes out of Orangeburg. I beg to differ,” he said.

Residents Ladson and Jean Beach attended the event to support the arts in the area, Jean said. The pair were excited for the festival, they said.

“It’s really nice having this much activity happening this weekend,” Ladson Beach said.

Contact the writer: cbozard@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5553. Follow on Twitter: @bozardcaleb.

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