Always hear about Columbia’s art scene? This group finds the best artists every year

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Popular artist Trahern Cook entertains people while painting scenes in Columbia
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Popular artist Trahern Cook entertains people while painting scenes in Columbia

In 2011, the staff of the Jasper Project, known as Jasper Magazine at the time, pondered Columbia’s art scene and found the town was missing a certain recognition for artists who, as the organization says, had “a good year.”

“We liked the idea of acknowledging game-changing moments or big strides, whatever they might have been, in their artistry,” Kyle Petersen, a board member of the Jasper Project said.

For the last eight years, the Jasper Project has honored locals making literary, visual, theater, and musical arts with their Jasper Artist of the Year awards. Much like the Academy Awards give out the Oscars, Jasper’s distinctions are known as the JAYS.

“Let’s say you are a visual artist who had a big local mural, three national exhibits and won a major fellowship,” Petersen said, “or you’re a musician who put out a big album, got some national press and launched your first East Coast tour, we’re flexible with how we define the year, but we wanted it to mark those exceptional steps forward.”

Jasper finished their nomination process for this year’s JAYS and voting for who should win the year-end honors is underway. The public votes between three finalist in each category of the arts.

“We do an open call for nominations each year with loose criteria around the ‘good year’ concept,” Petersen said. “Anyone can submit an artist for contention, but they have to provide information about what they’ve done in the past 12 months that makes them worthy of consideration.”

You may have heard of past JAY winners for their efforts around Columbia and the Midlands. Mark Rapp, a Columbia jazz trumpter who founded ColaJazz to further the local scene, took home a JAY. Petersen called Rapp “a force for jazz on the music scene.” Visual artist Michaela Pilar Brown, who’s been recognized across the state and nationally, took the visual artist category in 2016. Brown has the distinction of being the 2018 ArtFields Art Festival winner, a widely recognized juried event amongst Southeastern artists that takes place in Lake City, South Carolina.

Brown has national recognition along with other JAY award winners such as Susan Lenz, who creates assemblied, sculptured and installed works, and Kimi Maeda, who’s combination of theatre and visual arts have recieved international attention. Julia Elliott is another past JAY winner who’s garnered national acclaim with her gothic and satirical short story collection, The Wilds, and novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch.

In its 8th year, The Jasper awards are putting together a salon-style event that features a couple of this year’s finalist performing or showing their work in order to give artists and art appreciators “the opportunity to learn about one another’s creative processes and inspirations.”

“The JAYs are at their core just a way to truly celebrate how much great art is created and happens here each year,” Petersen said. “It’s also time to step back and reflect, to mark where we’ve been and where we are as an arts community. So much about art can feel ephemeral and can be taken for granted. This is a chance to testify to the fact that the art around us is extraordinary.”

While the impetus to recognize Columbia artists who had “a good year” remains, the Jasper Projects year end awards have transformed to provide anothe kind of recognition, in Petersen’s assessment.

“I think we do it just as much to create some sort of historical record or lineage,” he said. “If you lined up all our past finalists, they really tell a certain story about arts in the Midlands.”

To vote for who should win a JAY for their 2018 work visit Jasper Project’s website. The salon featuring works and performances by finalist happens Jan. 18 at The Seibel House in Columbia. Tickets are only $15 (VIP $40). Food, wine and beer will be available. Contact info@jasperproject.org for more information.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.