For more than three decades, Dot Ryall has worked to acquire, create and build support for public art in the Midlands.
In 2001, Ryall, as then-executive director of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, headed the Palmetto Tree Project, in which artists projected their visions on specially designed steel palmettos, as well as Open Doors, a similar project using doors from the old Saxon Homes public housing project.
Today Ryall, who left the cultural council in 2003, is taking on a new challenge: Finding corporate sponsors or private donors for world-class public art for new and existing buildings on the University of South Carolina campus.
“We have a responsibility to keep art vibrant where we live,” said Ryall, a USC alumna. “I have a passion for the arts, and I feel I have a responsibility to do what I can to put it in our environment.”
The first piece, “Eternal Flame” from Mexican artist Leonardo Nierman, already has arrived. It will be erected in the courtyard of the new Darla Moore School of Business.
Nierman often uses images of flame, birds or angels to convey movement and harmony – concepts that are fitting for the nation’s top-ranked international business school, USC president Harris Pastides said.
“I am very committed to bringing art – real art – to where students and others” can see it daily, he said. “And sculpture is something we don’t have a lot of.”
The sculpture was donated by the artist, a friend of Ryall. Colonial Life paid for shipping the sculpture from Mexico and installing it.
“We know excellent education and a thriving arts culture are important to a vibrant business environment – they help attract new business to our area and keep top talent in the community,” said Randy Horn, Colonial Life’s chief executive. “Colonial Life has had a strong partnership with the business school for many years. So working with the university to sponsor this sculpture placement was a great fit for us.”
Ryall said she hopes to persuade corporations to purchase or commission works for the campus, and to persuade wealthy collectors with ties to the university to donate appropriate structures.
High-quality sculpture erected on campus would boost the local art scene and improve the work of USC art students and faculty, Ryall said.
“If you bring a world-class piece of art into your community and you put your local artists next to it, that will take them to a different level,” she said.
Pastides said art and sculpture also will enhance the education of all students. “Isn’t that what it’s all about? Not only learning in the classroom but everywhere?” he said.
Another possible location for art is the new law school under construction on Gervais Street. Its courtyard “aches for a piece of art,” Pastides said. Among other possible spots are the Athletic Village on Heyward Street and the new Alumni Center in the Vista..
There is no timetable for the project, according to USC architect Derek Gruner. And all potential pieces would be juried and judged appropriate by a committee including Gruner, an archivist, a landscape architect and members of the art department and McKissick Museum.
“It’s got to fit,” he said.
Pastides said he hopes Colonial Life’s donation and publicity about the effort will “start a movement.”
“We hope other corporate entities look at what they did,” he said.