When Ken May considers the diversity of the arts in South Carolina, he reflects on the deep-rooted traditions like sweetgrass basket making, Catawba pottery, and gospel music.
May, the acting executive director of the S.C. Arts Commission, is also struck by the state's strong contemporary crafts and its cutting-edge performances - among them the Southern Exposure music series in Columbia and the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston.
Maintaining that level of quality while setting future priorities for the arts is at the heart of several statewide forums that begin Monday in Columbia and run through April 8. Sponsored by the S.C. Arts Commission, the meetings are a part of the 2010 Canvas of the People, a statewide planning process that will be used to create the 2011-2020 Long-Range Plan for the Arts in South Carolina.
"We want to hear what people value about the arts and how they think the arts can support the economic, educational and creative well-being of their communities," May said. "We will use that input to help develop the next long-range plan for the arts, which the statewide arts community can use as a road map for the future."
May said the forums are targeted to anyone interested in the arts or in the role of the arts in S.C. communities.
"At each stop, we will be having conversations with community leaders about the character and values of the places where they live, the role of creativity in those communities and the contributions that the arts make in the cities and towns we are visiting," he said.
What the forums seek specifically, he said, are the things people consider the most important "targets" for future work in the arts.
"To put it another way, we want to understand better how the arts can generate the greatest possible public value for the citizens of our state," he said.
May feels the forums will build on a tradition of arts excellence in the state.
"There are great examples of the arts leading the way in downtown revivals in places like Greenville and Newberry," he said. "Our state is also known as a national leader in efforts to improve K-12 arts education for all students."
The ongoing goal, he said, will be to ensure continued equal access to the arts within urban and rural communities, even in light of the recent economic strain.
Despite that strain, however, May said interest in the arts remains strong. He pointed to a 2009 poll by the USC Institute for Public Service and Policy Research showing that 67 percent of S.C. adults participated in the arts in some way during the past year. The poll revealed that, on average, South Carolina residents participate in the arts 14 times a year.
"While the economy has certainly presented challenges, the arts in South Carolina are still strong, and they still have a lot of community support," May said. "The need for creative expression and aesthetic experience is a basic part of human behavior."
IF YOU GO
Here's a list of the upcoming art forums to be held across the state. Each meeting will run from 6:45 to 8 p.m. Admission is free and no registration is required.
- Monday, - Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia.
- March 11 - Technical College of the Lowcountry, Beaufort.
- March 16 - Governor's School for the Arts, Greenville.
- March 22 - Black Creek Arts Center, Hartsville.
- March 25 - Aiken Center for the Arts, Aiken.
- March 29 - North Charleston City Hall, North Charleston.
- April 8 - Chapman Cultural Center, Spartanburg.