Lake City businesses wowed by success of ArtFields festival

cclick@thestate.comApril 29, 2013 

— Iris Bryant was running out of adjectives Monday to describe the success of ArtFields, the juried Lake City art festival that extended over 10 days and drew hundreds of visitors to the Pee Dee city of 7,000.

“It was fabulous,” said Bryant, owner of a children’s boutique just off Lake City’s Main Street. “It is the most phenomenal thing I have ever seen in Lake City.”

Monday, festival organizers, including Lake City native and philanthropist Darla Moore, were still tabulating visitor totals and assessing the economic impact of the festival that concluded over the weekend with the awarding of a $50,000 top art prize and two $25,000 prizes.

But Bryant and other business owners said it was clear the festival brought increased business and heightened awareness to the struggling city once known for its bustling bean and tobacco markets.

Visitors crowded into Bryant’s Bold and Sassy Boutique to view the artwork – which included a painting, a photograph, two paintings on wood panels and a glass and metal sculpture – and browse among the racks of children’s clothing and adult garments. The sculpture artist, John Dagoriu, hung out for much of the week, explaining his work to spectators.

“The exposure has just been awesome,” said Bryant, who already drew some customers from Florence and surrounding cities. “I have had so many people come in and say, ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ So I feel like it will have a far-reaching effect.”

The 400 juried pieces, including paintings, sculpture, photography, and two- and three-dimensional pieces, were scattered around 40 Lake City businesses and public buildings, from the library to Joe’s Barbershop. Lake City was abuzz with walkers roaming down Main Street, over to the restored Jones & Carter building and to the Hub at the ROB, the old Ragsdale Old Building.

Robbie Steele, owner of Southern Distributing Co., which sells wholesale plumbing and electrical supplies, said he was busy all week greeting people who may not ordinarily frequent a wholesale distributor or plumbing showroom.

“We have had hundreds, if not thousands, go through,” Steele said. Some, he said, were interested in his products once they realized he serviced areas in Florence and other surrounding communities. “I think it was a good thing for the town.”

Clark Ward tried to get by without hiring extra help at his Ward’s Comfort & Style Shoes on Main Street, but the crowds kept coming, particularly on the final weekend.

“I really needed help the first Saturday but I thought I would try to get by,” he said. “I did have extra help for the final Saturday.”

He said most people came to look at the artwork then settled in to buy shoes.

“Definitely, it was great for business and it was great to see all the people,” Ward said.

For James Arendt, who claimed the $50,000 grand prize at ArtFields for his large cut-denim piece, “Jamie,” the festival represented “the transformative power of art.”

“Art so much of the time is decorative background,” Arendt, director of Coastal Carolina University’s Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery in Conway, said Monday. “This is when art really rises to its highest level.”

“I think the festival is great for the city,” he added. “Watching (Lake City residents) as we delivered the work, cleaning and painting and installing windows, making their city look great for all the visitors they anticipated was great. That is the transformative power of art, and I think it accomplished some of the goals they set as a economic driver for the city.

“I came down Saturday and the streets were full and the shops were humming.”

John Cooper of Rutherfordton, N.C., won the $25,000 “People’s Choice” award for his evocative painting, “Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.” The award went to the artist who claimed the most votes from visitors to the exhibition envisioned by Moore, one of the state’s wealthiest philanthropists.

Leanna Knapp of Juliette, Ga., won a $25,000 juried panel prize for her clay and fabric sculpture called “Shell.”

Moore, a Lake City native who made a fortune on Wall Street, hopes the festival will jumpstart the local economy and make art as significant in the 21st century as the cultivation of crops was in the 20th century.

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