The Buzz

December 30, 2012

The year in arts

2012 was a year of transition for local arts — new venues, new leaders and new rising stars. A recap of what happened in the arts:

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to

2012 was a year of transition for local arts — new venues, new leaders and new rising stars. A recap of what happened in the arts:


Nickelodeon Theatre, South Carolina’s only art house theater, moved to its new home on Main Street in August. In 2005, the Columbia Film Society, which operates The Nick, purchased the building at 1607 Main St., that once was the Fox Theater. The move, which had been repeatedly delayed, was the denouement of a $5 million dollar capital campaign.

Summer contributions totaling $300,000 from the Ford Foundation and The Nord Family Foundation ensured the Nick would meet its latest opening deadline. The Nick has estimated that it will draw 60,000 people annually to Main Street.

The 99-seat downstairs theater, with its new projection system, is open, but the Nick has returned to raising money to renovate the 200-seat theater on the second floor of the new building. Andy Smith, the Nick’s executive director, said the theater will “shoot for $2 million for renovations and financial reserves.” Now that the Nick owns the building, it can’t complain to a landlord if the air conditioning breaks or if the roof leaks.

The second screen is paramount to the Nick’s success.

“That’s the piece that’s going to make the Nick so much more financially stable than it’s ever been before,” Smith told The State in August. “The revenue that comes with that second theater is going to be huge for us. Plus, the different avenues that it opens up for programming.”

For example, Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” attracted more than 5,000 people during its summer run, a theater record, Smith said. The film, which was scheduled for four weeks, had to be held over for an extra week. The theater missed showing Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love.” With a second theater, that wouldn’t have happened.

“Plan 9 From Outer Space,” the stage adaptation of the Ed Wood film that debuted with three sold-out shows in March at Tapp’s Arts Center, was rewarding theater with perfect timing — on the stage and with the running time (about an hour) of show. “Plan 9” was so well received that the production kicked off Trustus Theatre’s new Last Call Series in September.

Jim and Kay Thigpen, cofounders of Trustus Theatre, stepped off the stage after 27 seasons at the 134-seat theater on Lady Street in the Vista. Larry Hembree, the former executive director of Nickelodeon Theatre, took over in the fall.

The Urban Tour in April featured the Mp3 Experiment. The orchestrator was Columbia native Charlie Todd, who founded Improv Everywhere in 2001. Todd is also a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, and he’s the author of “Causing a Scene,” a behind-the-scenes book about Improv Everywhere’s pre-planned practical jokes. Here’s how it worked: Participants downloaded an MP3 file, a mix of music and instruction around 45 minutes long. Without listening to the file, they synchronized their watches to the clock from the same website before going to Boyd Plaza in front of the Columbia Museum of Art. Then they pressed play at the predetermined time. There was interaction with the participants and audience, and there were balloons!

The Spork in Hand Puppet Slam, held during The Indie Grits Festival, was delightful and captivating. A second slam was held in November at Trustus.

The Colonial Life Arena celebrated its 10th birthday. The 18,000-seat venue on Lincoln Street in the Vista, opened in 2002. It was built by USC as a home for the Gamecock men’s and women’s basketball teams — and as a venue to attract top-tier concert tours. The arena succeeded early.

In April 2004, Aerosmith, Prince, Kenny Chesney (with Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley), Shania Twain and Jimmy Buffett performed at the arena, making it No. 1 in ticket sales in the country for the month, according to Venues Today. In August of that year, the arena stopped selling tickets through Ticketmaster and started using its own system. Eight years later, the system is still in place.

The arena isn’t just music and sports. WWE, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, Cirque Du Soleil, Monster Jam, conventions and more have held events at the arena.

In November 2011, Tom Paquette, the only general manager the Colonial Life Arena had known in its existence to that point, announced he was leaving to become the vice president and general manager of San Antonio’s AT&T Center, home of the NBA franchise San Antonio Spurs. Lexie Boone was announced as Paquette’s replacement in January.

In June, on the heels of the release of Pixar’s “Brave,” the news media singled the production out for having the studio’s first female lead character, according to Smithsonian Magazine. In a post on its website, the magazine singled out five women animators who shook up the film industry. Helen Hill, a filmmaker and Columbia native who was murdered in post-Katrina New Orleans, was on the list.

The Twitty Triplets returned from who knows where in August as the debut production of Trustus Theatre’s Off-Off Lady Series, a set of productions staged away from the Vista theater. Len Marini, Libby Campbell and Leigh Stephenson starred as Aynor, Monetta and Cayce Twitty, respectively, the singing and dancing triplets who rework classic disco songs to fit their lives.

Brooklyn Mack won three international ballet competitions, including a gold medal at the superior International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. He is the first black dancer to win on the revered stage. Mack, 26, began his dance training at Pavlovich Dance School under Radenko Pavlovich, the artistic director of Columbia Classical Ballet. He dances professionally with The Washington Ballet.

Mark Rothko wasn’t an artist who fretted over being translated or understood, but “Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950,” the exhibition that ends Jan. 6 at the Columbia Museum of Art, delves into the period before Rothko began creating his seminal works of colored rectangles. The 37 works, including paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints, were chiefly culled from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The CMA also produced a 170-page, full-color catalogue. The show had drawn 18,000 by mid December.

James Busby won the inaugural 701 CCA Prize. Modeled after the Turner Prize, Britain’s high-profile visual art competition, the inaugural 701 CCA Prize is a biennial award established to recognize a South Carolina artist 40 years old or younger. From 19 applicants, the finalists were selected in a multistep adjudication process by a three-person jury: Lilly Wei, a New York-based art critic and curator; Paul Bright, the director of the Hanes Gallery at Wake Forest University; and Karen Watson, the Sumter County Gallery of Art director. In the exhibition catalogue, Wei wrote that Busby is an artist of elegant, meticulously crafted geometric forms.

She continued, “Part relief, part painting, sometimes three-dimensional, of gesso, graphite and acrylic burnished to a high gloss, they are sophisticated interpretations of an updated formalism.”

In February, Robert Jesselson and Charles Fugo, two USC professors, celebrated 30 years of playing together as a duo. The Jesselson/Fugo pairing anniversary concert featured pieces composed by Tayloe Harding, the school of music’s dean, as well as pieces by composers Reginald Bain and Dick Goodwin, among others. Jesselson, a Carolina Distinguished Professor, teaches cello. Fugo is a professor of piano and coaches chamber music. In December, “Carolina Cellobration: New Music for Cello,” featuring recording of the compositions and other pieces was released.

In June, The Southeastern Piano Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with the Piano Extravaganza concert featuring Morihiko Nakahara and the South Carolina Philharmonic. A program highlight was a performance of “The Planets,” a composition written for five pianos. Marina Lomazov, the festival’s artistic director, was joined by Phillip Bush, Charles Fugo, Joseph Rackers and Naomi Causby.

Oscar nominee Viola Davis, who starred as Aibileen Clark in “The Help,” a film about black maids working in white households in Jackson, Miss., in the 1960s, was born at the former Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews. She was delivered by her grandmother, Mozzle Howard Logan, in her house. Logan worked just about a mile up the road, in the home of the Wienges family, the owners of the former cotton plantation. Davis shared her story on TV, radio and in print, mentioning her South Carolina origins. Her parents moved to Central Falls, R.I., a few months after she was born in August 1965. Davis did not speak fondly about the place where she was born, saying, more than once, that she was told by her mother, Mary Alice Davis, that Logan was treated unkindly by her employers. But Annette Logan Riley, Logan’s daughter and Davis’ aunt who still works on the plantation, disputed her niece’s statements about the farm’s owners.

For his show “DAVID CIANNI: Alternate Universe — The M-BORA Project,” a March exhibition at 701 Center for Contemporary Art, Cianni built lighted, metal-framed tunnels to display life-size and lifelike metal sculptures of robots and cyborgs.

Man “Mandy” Fang, a renowned new music composer and USC School of Music assistant professor, has longed to create an opera based on the letters a Chinese father wrote to his son. Now she can. Fang was named a Guggenheim Fellow, an award presented by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She will use the award to compose the opera.

The Indie Grits Festival commissioned four films to be paired with music selected by Morihiko Nakahara, the conductor of the South Carolina Philharmonic. During the production, titled Cinemovements, members of the Phil performed as the films are screened. There needs to be more engaging productions that meld artistic mediums like this.

Philip Bush was appointed research associate professor of piano and chamber music at USC.

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” opened in May at the South Carolina State Museum, 100 years after the ship collided with an iceberg during the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. The museum was on time this year. “Secrets of the Maya” was the backdrop of the museum’s End of the World Party.

For four decades Rowland Alston watched and chronicled South Carolina’s transition from a rural to urban state as a Clemson University Extension Service agent. For almost two decades, Alston, who is a lake of agriculture and horticulture knowledge, has discussed those changes on “Making it Grow!,” the Emmy-award winning program produced by ETV and Clemson. He retired in June and received the Order of the Palmetto on his last broadcast. Amanda McNulty took over his hosting duties.

Art supporters rallied in July when Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes eliminated all funding to the South Carolina Arts Commission. The response included a rally at the South Carolina State House.

Herbert Vogel, a retired postal worker who created a significant modern art collection with his wife, Dorothy, died. In 2008, through a joint initiative with the National Gallery, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the museum received 50 pieces of art as part of “The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States” gift. In April, the museum announced a gift of almost 600 works of art from the Vogels, who built a collection of more than 4,500 pieces. The CMA is now the second-largest repository of the Vogel collection, trailing the 1,100 pieces held by the National Gallery.

AgFirst Farm Credit Bank donated “Busted Plug Plaza” to the city of Columbia. The 40-foot concrete, steel and aluminum sculpture that weighs 675,000 pounds is in a parking lot at Taylor and Marion streets owned by AgFirst. The bank, which is moving to Main Street, also donated $25,000 to relocate the art created by Blue Sky. But another piece of art in “Busted Plug’s” vicinity has earned attention. What will happen to “Tunnelvision,” the large mural Blue Sky painted on the AgFirst building in 1975?

Kathleen Robbins, an associate professor of art and coordinator of USC’s photography program, won first prize in PhotoNOLA, the 6th annual exhibition of photography in New Orleans.

Redbird Studio and Gallery, at 2757 Rosewood Drive, was opened by Virginia Scotchie, head of ceramics at USC, with Bri Kinard, a USC graduate who will be studio manager and instructor.

McKissick Museum’s “Get Cocky!” exhibit brought together Gamecock mascots past and present.

Richard Jennings, who founded USC’s MFA Acting Program, retired after a 33-year career.

Renovations were made to USC’s Longstreet Theatre, including $500,000 performance lighting system replacement. The Booker T. Washington building, home of USC’s Lab Theatre, got substantial exterior and interior renovations.

The Opera-tunity Foundation and the USC School of Music presented A Week of Remembrance, part of a seven-day Jewish remembrance in the city.

The USC Wind Ensemble went on a concert tour of China, which included a sold-out performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. It was broadcast nationally on Chinese TV.

Brian Lang, the CMA’s former curator of decorative arts who put together “The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design,” left the museum to become chief curator at Arkansas Arts Center. Todd Herman, the museum’s former chief curator, is the AAC’s executive director.

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