Ruta Smith

The North Charleston Arts Fest was one of the dozens of events that was nixed during the pandemic as we all learned to adjust to a new way of life earlier this year. But the city has spun off a new gallery space since then, adding a new central hub to showcase local work.

Typically held in May over three days, the arts festival brings together artists of all disciplines, from dancers to visual artists, for exhibits and performances at the Charleston Area Convention Center and North Charleston’s Riverfront Park.

But this year, it was a no-go.

“This event is our biggest general public program,” said Ann Simmons, the deputy director of the North Charleston Cultural Arts Department. “We booked so many artists and vendors, it was a huge blow to them and a bummer for us to have to cancel.”

Like so many other businesses and organizations, the department had to find a way to switch up programming and event planning. “Most people don’t realize that the department is also responsible for the city’s archived history in addition to being very involved in schools, which sets us apart from the city of Charleston,” said Simmons. The department works closely with local schools to provide after-hours arts enrichment, in-school performances and, during the summer, arts camps. Now, the department is considering how they can continue providing arts programming to students as the start of the school year gets closer.

“Our arts coordinator is moving forward with our school resource book, which is basically a roster of artists that schools can choose from — storytellers, an African dance troupe, visual artists,” said Simmons. “Like everybody, we’re really just waiting to see what we’ll be able to do. Obviously, we prefer to have artists in the schools, but if that’s not going to be possible, we are exploring virtual options.”

Simmons and the rest of the Cultural Arts Department are also considering how to bring holiday events to the community without the ability to host big festivals. No official announcement has been made, but it seems unlikely the annual Harvest Festival and Christmas parade will be able to take place. (At least, not in the usual way, so stay tuned for updates.)

Although there have been a lot of setbacks in terms of programming and events, the Cultural Arts Department had big news as of this month. Their new Park Circle Gallery opened its doors on Aug. 1 with two month-long exhibits by local artists Sarah Harris and Nicole Robinson. Previously, the building just off of East Montague Avenue functioned as a multi- purpose space where adult art workshops were held as well as art organization meetings, which will continue along with monthly exhibits featuring two artists. If you’re an artist interested in getting your pieces on display, applications for the 2021 season open in September.

“This new space allows us the opportunity to show three-dimensional work and continue supporting the artists in our community, so we’re excited to be able to expand in that way,” said Simmons.

The department is also working through plans for next year’s Arts Fest event, with the intention of re-creating the 2020 North Charleston Arts Festival as best as it can. Artists that originally applied for this year can re-apply for another chance to be a part of the event, and Christine Bush Roman, the winner of this year’s design competition, will have her work represent the 2021 festival’s artwork and branding.

For other ways to support the city’s cultural initiatives, check out upcoming exhibits at the Park Circle Gallery and head to the weekly farmers market in the middle of Park Circle. It’s a pared down version of the typical market, but it still offers the chance to buy local goods and support farmers.

“Supporting the artists and art organizations in the Lowcountry at this time, in the end supports us too,” Simmons said. “We’ve attempted during this pandemic to share as many resources as we can with artists because once this passes, whenever that is and whatever that looks like, we still need our artists to be there.”