It’s not easy to summarize a year in arts in Charleston, nor is it easy to pick out a few events, exhibits, and interviews that stand out in a sea of stories. This list is neither comprehensive, nor ordered in any particular fashion. It’s just what we remember best about the arts scene of 2018 based on our gut reactions to works of art, people, and places. These exhibits, films, and comedians made us cry, scream, and laugh (in no particular order) all year. Here’s why:
An exhibition four years in the making (and still going on — check it out through March 2 2019),
Southbound is impressive in both its scope and in its message. Featured in two galleries, the exhibition, which opened at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and City Gallery this fall, looks at “photographs of and about the New South,” through the eyes of 56 artists and photographers. In our October 2018 cover story on the expansive art exhibit, writer Chase Quinn asked, “What are we actually talking about when we talk about the New South, a term bandied about with the same frequency (and often the same conceit) with which people label Charleston ‘quietly progressive?'” Quinn discovered that the term “New South” has actually been used since the 1880s, begging more questions than answers when it comes to the progress of the Southern region of the United States. From portraits of men and women in poverty-stricken areas of the country to candids of groups of folks celebrating their versions of the South, Southbound is deeply powerful, and continually important. Join in the conversation with a wide variety of screenings and discussions, held at the Halsey. Check out the full schedule online at halsey.cofc.edu.
Although filming for Halloween in our fair city began last year, 2018 was the year of our lord, err, director David Gordon Green. The premiere of the new Halloween swept the nation this past October, bringing with it pretty damn good reviews from fans and critics alike. Oh yeah, and tons of snapshots of Charleston, with featured locales including North Charleston’s Danny Jones complex and Mt. Pleasant’s Burtons Grill. Our Screen critic, Kevin Young, was lucky enough to chat with Green before the film came out, and the two discussed everything from the film itself to, well, Donald Cried. Green told Young that he loves seeing people’s live reactions to his films: “You learn a lot about the movie and the pacing for a movie like this, when the tension really has people, or when the jump scares make them jump and scared. You know comedies and horror movies where there’s actual physicality, verbal reactions. People talk to the screen. I mean, those are my favorite movie going experiences.” And of Charleston? Says now-resident Green, “I like knowing my neighbors and I like being able to get around quickly and efficiently to the places I like and the accessibility of a midsize city. I was just drawn to it.”
While we’d like to take credit for former Charleston resident Dusty Slay’s national comedy success, we think that responsibility lies solely with the talented stand-up himself. We interviewed Slay at the beginning of this year, when he headlined the Charleston Comedy Festival. At the time Slay was already gaining ground in the world of late night talk shows, having recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Slay told writer Dustin Waters that Charleston still serves as a source of inspiration for his comedy (even if he’s changed a bit since he left the city): “For sure there is a different me that exists now. I mean, I haven’t drank in almost six years. The me that exists now versus drinking Dusty is a whole different thing. I would love to make some comparisons there. I got a few more drinking jokes lately. Charleston loves drinking and restaurant jokes. Maybe I can tap into that. I always think that I’m going to do some sentimental thing on stage when I’m in Charleston, but then when I’m in the moment, I’m just like ‘Nay, I’m just going to do the jokes.'” Since that interview Slay has appeared on The Tonight Show and made trips back to his former city, performing at Queen Street Playhouse as part of the new Queen Street Comedy Series. Most recently, ABC told us that Slay is working with executive director of the Santa Clarita Diet, Chadd Gindin on a “blue collar comedy” based on Slay’s childhood in a trailer in Alabama. Stay tuned for more news on the currently unnamed show, set to be confirmed by May 2019.
A Dialogue in Black and White
When Torreah “Cookie” Washington first told me about her plans for an exhibit that included not only a wide variety of mediums and artists, but also multiple opportunities for conversation and discussion about the pieces, I was impressed. I was also, admittedly, skeptical about the exhibition coming to fruition; it sounded too good to be true. Fortunately for Charleston, A Dialogue in Black and White debuted this year at Piccolo Spoleto, fulfilling Washington’s vision of featuring over 60 artists and pairing them up to create works based on specific topics. From “Black Lives Matter” to “health care” to “capital punishment,” artists from around the country tackled tough topics in thoughtful, often heartbreaking works of art. Paired with the exhibition itself were brunches and dinners open to the public; once you bought your ticket, you showed up and sat next to strangers as one of the participating artists led a discussion. And not only did this exhibition affect those who witnessed it — it impacted the artists who participated, too. Artist Arianne King Comer told City Paper about how inspiring her exhibition partner was: “What got me, was to meet with my partner. I had met him, a couple years ago as a docent for an exhibition. I was glad that I knew him, but had no idea that he was homeless until this project. Our dialogue was trying to reach him; he’s homeless, he doesn’t have a phone. It was intriguing to me, to think of him all the time.”
Tua Lingua / Park Circle Creative
It was a roller-coaster year for the building located at 1813 Reynolds Ave. Formerly a warehouse space, the building, owned by Steph Emge, was rented to experimental arts space, Tua Lingua, earlier this year. At the time, owner of Tua Lingua, Nathan Petro, told City Paper about his plans for the much larger space (Tua Lingua formerly worked out of an old house in North Charleston): “It’s a constant evolution and adjustment process between ourselves and the community to create important and impactful events. I think that if you are doing this right, it will always be a little unstable, a little scary. But, that being said, we have managed to keep all of this going for almost five years already, which is generally unheard of for a self-funded artist space. And that, of course, indicates to us that we are doing something right.” Unfortunately, just a few months after Tua Lingua moved into Reynolds Avenue, Petro and Emge had a falling out and Tua Lingua moved out of the space. Emge kept the building in the arts realm, re-naming it “Park Circle Creative” with plans to host a wide variety of events — from figure drawing classes to markets. Park Circle Creative hosts a functioning dark room, several studio artists, and plenty of parking. When I talked to Emge in October he described the space as “a little homegrown,” adding that he “kind of likes it” that way. And while Emge is still considering his space very much a “see what happens” kind of venture, his grand plan to bring in some weird to North Charleston is in full effect: “Maybe I can rent a kangaroo or something.”
SC Historical Society gets new museum
The South Carolina Historical Society (SCHS) features centuries’ worth of material — we’re talking 350 years of it. But until recently, not a whole lot of people knew about the society. That is until they opened the doors to a new public museum in the historic Fireproof Building. Located at 100 Meeting St. (part of Museum Mile, natch), the museum has what SCHS’ director of education Heather Reed says is “something for everyone.” When Reed talked to writer Chase Quinn earlier this year, she described the wealth of opportunities the museum offers, for those looking for a deep dive into South Carolina history, or maybe just a few fun facts to throw around their next cocktail party. The museum highlights important Charleston S.C. figures like Elizabeth Lucas Pinckney, who is best know for helping introduce indigo to the state; Rene Ravenel, forefather of the Ravenel dynasty; an enslaved African girl, Priscilla Ball; and a Kiawah Amerindian chief who brokered peace with European settlers, Cassique of Kiawah. And while Charleston may be best known for its participation in well, wars, Reed assured us that the museum features more contemporary exhibits as well: “A lot of people come here expecting just to hear about the Revolutionary War and Civil War … I think what we do is we tell the later story as well. We talk about the arts and culture, we talk about the music, we talk about the artwork, we talk about the food.”
Local authors continue YA domination
There’s nothing new about the proliferation of successful young adult authors in the Charleston area. From Corrie Wang to Ashley Poston to Ryan Graudin (to name but a few), this area seems to generate a lot of impressive YA writers. Not to mention the annual festival dedicated to the genre. This year I sat down with two authors, Cinelle Barnes and Signe Pike, both speaking on the eves of their respective book debuts. It’s not easy to get a book published, especially with big deal publishers like Little A, an Amazon imprint (Barnes) and Touchstone, a Simon & Schuster imprint (Pike). This spring I traveled to the Philippines in Barnes’ Monsoon Mansion — in my mind at least. The memoir is striking in its attention to detail, creating a vivid world with vibrant (and complicated) characters. And the thing is, it’s all true. Barnes realizes that her childhood was abnormal. In an interview with City Paper she told us, “You might feel like you’re drowning a bit, but you’ll breathe in the end. That’s what I wanted people to experience. I want it to feel like you’re diving into water.” When I talked to Pike, the cover girl for our Fall Arts Issue, she too expressed a desire to immerse her readers in the world she created, namely Scotland, AD 550. In The Lost Queen (a book whose sequel I eagerly await), Pike tells the story of the character of Merlin the wizard and more importantly, his oft forgotten twin sister, Languoreth. As Pike tells it, “The more I found out about her life, and how she’d lived through one of the bloodiest civil wars in Scottish history — that no one remembers — I thought, what a travesty that this woman is fictionalized because she’s related to someone who inspired a legend. My mission became to resurrect her memory.”
For this year’s Best of Charleston’s critics’ picks, I deemed Creekside Comedy, a monthly comedy night at Creekside Kitchen and Brewhouse, the “best reason to go to West Ashley.” I stand by that claim. Keith “Big Daddy” Dee has created an awesome night of comedy in an unlikely location, bringing in regional and local acts and selling out performances. When I spoke to Dee earlier this year, he told me that he’s “always been a class clown kind of guy.” But that hasn’t kept him from beefing up the local comedy scene (which is already thriving — throw a stick in this town and you’ll hit a show most nights of the week) and emceeing shows at both Creekside and North Charleston’s SportsBook. In addition to emceeing, Dee himself will step into the role of performer, totally embracing one of the most vulnerable positions you could put yourself in. According to him, after performing at the Helium Comedy Club, he “got the fever.” Starting in January, Dee plans on holding Creekside Comedy twice a month. Check his website, keithdeecomedy.com, for full details.
Queen Street Playhouse
This year Footlight Players Theatre rebranded as Queen Street Playhouse, describing itself as a “performing arts center.” The goal, according to Footlight Players’ executive director, Brian Porter, was to make the theater more accessible. He told us, “Footlight [the building/company] was producing six or seven shows a year and a Piccolo series. The space sits vacant for so long. We decided to make it affordable and accessible to everyone.” Queen Street Playhouse, in addition to those Footlight plays, now hosts the Queen Street Comedy Series, Queen Street Harmony series (a collaboration with Awendaw Green’s Eddie White), and Queen Street Poetry, a collab with the city’s Poet Laureate, Marcus Amaker. Porter says that the rebranding and the new offerings have done what he wanted them to do — “excite our artistic community.”