Tamarack Foundation Tours W.Va., Spreads Word about Effects of Art in Rural Economies

Oct 31, 2018

A South Carolina town that has reinvented itself with art is seeking artists in West Virginia to participate in its annual nine-day exhibition. Event organizers toured West Virginia to spread the word about the event and also the economic effects art has had in their town.

Lake City, South Carolina, is a rural town of about 7,000 people. Once called the “Bean Capital of the World,” the town became economically depressed over the years.

Holly Shady grew up in Lake City. “It was always a place you didn’t want to come to,” she said. “When you went to college you never wanted to come back.”

Now Shady is the fine arts manager with an annual art competition called Artfields and she says she’s observed big changes in the town since the competition first launched seven years ago.

“Because of Artfields we have a hotel downtown that we thought would never happen. We have retail spaces coming into town because of the popularity that has grown. So we’ve seen a major impact.”

Shady explains that in 2012, an effort began to reinvent Lake City by focusing on the arts.  Inspired by similar activities in Grand Rapids, Michigan they organized what has become an annual nine-day competition exhibition. Artists from 12 southeastern states are invited to enter the competition which gives out 145-thousand dollars each year in cash prizes.

Twenty-five dollar online submissions attract about 800 - 900 applicants each year. 400 pieces are accepted. But Shady says they haven’t gotten many submissions from WV. “That’s why we’re here. Hello, West Virginia.”

Shady toured the state with Renee Margocee, Executive Director of West Virginia's Tamarack Foundation for the Arts. Together they encouraged participation, but Margocee says another motive was to spread creative ideas about the revitalizing economic effects art can have in a community.

“To be spending so much time with folks who have a structured approach to this, where we can learn what lessons they’ve learned has been really helpful. And while the amount of 145 thousand dollars is quite a nice sium, it’s an approachable sum that I can imagine places in West Virginia piggybacking on and borrowing some of these good ideas to spark energy in our communities.”

Artfields in Lake City, South Carolina, is accepting submissions for this year’s exhibition through November 5th. And again next year.