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Two groups represent Charleston’s art world. The first is artists who own personal studios, whose work enjoys official recognition, and shows up in museums and galleries. The second is a band of deviant creators — those with word of mouth marketing campaigns; work displayed on public walls, barrooms, and improvised venues that curl behind weedy old buildings.

Charlestonians tend to agree these different worlds have equally important ideas about the nature of art. But what one person considers graffiti, the next suggests valuable to the public; one artist is original while the next is an expressive hooligan. This is where the consensus splits, leaving the public to determine who and what represents acceptable art.

This year’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival puts that determination on display. Much of what occurs during Spoleto arrives from elsewhere. Artists, musicians, dancers, and performers descend with ambition and theatrics. It is a good, if not frenzied time to take measure of what Charleston means as an international art community. It is also an ideal moment for artists like Philip Hyman to gather his underground soldiers and mount an attack on the status quo.

Using an avuncular prowess that has come from years promoting his own and others artwork, Hyman has brought together a varied stock of local artists for Evolution: An Alternative Art Show. Evolution is a series of art events that run alongside Spoleto in order to spike attention towards Charleston’s underground art community.

“It is growing in size and ability,” Hyman said. “A lot of people don’t get the attention or opportunities they deserve. I’ve put it on myself to put something together.”

Sitting outside EVO Pizza on East Montague Ave. in North Charleston, Hyman explained Evolution’s main event.

“This entire street will be filled with different things to do and look at. There’ll be a 48-foot graffiti wall, live music, and tons of artwork. I’m trying to get people to see North Charleston as an important place for art. The artists know this, because there’s no place they can show downtown. I’ve been promoting this area for years, and it finally seems something is happening.”

The question of space, and of which artists are fortunate to have it, fuels Hyman’s drive. His chief ambition, he says, is to provide locals and artistic newcomers with a fair opportunity to show their work.

“That’s all it’s about. Not money or fame, I work for the sake of art, and promoting this area.”

But detractors exist. Hyman displays work from a variety of resources. Some of the artists are self-taught and prefer the subterranean charge of street art. Others are novices showing their debut colors.

Hyman refuses none of them.

Rather he encourages those interested to join his band of deviant creators and show the world what they can do. The problem arrives when contributors display work others feel is inferior, inappropriate, or overdone.

“It’s sometimes called art vomit,” said one local artist. “It seems at some point you have to decide what goes and what stays. Even in an open event like Evolution.”

But I find it difficult to criticize the charitable nature of Evolution. It is a community-based venture orchestrated by a ubiquitous Charleston artist. Its purpose is to expose art in the alternative environments that reflect the nature of its contributors.
Evolution photography is on display at Vickery’s, all-female art shows at Voodoo in West Ashley, and the magazine EGADES debuts the work of its contributors at 52.5. The backyard of Read Brothers will host music, puppetry, and sculpture. The Black Cart hosts “Wal-Smart,” with acts like “Gaybomb” and “Small Pox” and “Psychic Friends Network.”

And while these pieces might not be acclaimed and destined for greatness, they are genuine, risky and energetic. They are an intrinsic part of the Charleston art scene, but definitely not pretty landscape paintings that will sell out a gallery.

Evolution’s participating venues have personal ideas about art, just like galleries and museums, only with dim lights and later hours of operation. So the answer to which group is best suited to represent Charleston’s art word is subjective. Those with an urbane artistic outlook should rest assured and keep trolling Broad and East Bay Street. Those with more rebellious tastes should bump around Upper King Street, North Charleston, and West Ashley.