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Art in Action

Crowds gather at ArtFields in Lake City, S.C.

    Visiting ArtFields in Lake City, S.C., is an experience of surprise and delight. Repeatedly, visitors enter a retail establishment – bank, barbershop, mattress store, diner – only to encounter a painting, a sculpture, a floor-to-ceiling installation that stops them in their tracks. In any given venue around town, eyes are drawn, movements slow and minds are preoccupied with art lining a wall and permeating a space. In this unlikely experiment, a small town community is enveloped in beauty for a nine-day festival that reminds the visitor why and how the presence of art affects – or could affect – our daily lives.

    The utopian artistic tradition that is ArtFields began in 2013, when billionaire businesswoman Darla Moore had a vision for her hometown of Lake City. Her aim was to create a festival to attract top Southern artists with a sizable purse ($50,000 top prize, to be exact); bring local businesses and community organizations on board to develop a citywide, fully immersive experience; and display a vast array of works to engage, inspire and renew the viewer. 

    Five years later, Moore and Lake City proudly claim success in having established the third largest art festival in the Southeast; it accepts 400 works a year out of nearly 1,000 submissions from artists in 13 Southern states and attracts 25,000 visitors. 

    Coastal Carolina University, likewise, proudly claims success in having had Department of Visual Arts faculty nab the top prize twice, win numerous secondary prizes, gain acceptance to each year’s competition, and guide students to submit their own work.

    This year, four CCU faculty members and two students were accepted to participate in the festival, and lifelong learning student Brant Barrett won the category award for his photograph “Rooster.” Chris Bilton, teaching associate, exhibited his oil on canvas painting “Oink”; Alex Knox, assistant professor of visual arts, exhibited her site-specific installment “Repose,” made of silk chiffon and plexiglass; Treelee MacAnn, professor of visual arts, exhibited her silk screenpainting “A Zen Place I”; Caley Pennington, teaching associate, exhibited her charcoal on birch wood panel self-portrait “Caley”; and Drew Smith, senior, exhibited his ‌site-specific installation “The Process of Thought,” made of plaster and wire.

    Reflective of the event’s diversity and creativity, the various works were displayed in a boutique, a bakery, a library, a market, a renovated stable and a historic tobacco warehouse scattered around the city.

    “It’s always so interesting to see the artwork take over this town,” says Pennington. “To see these businesses accept this more of a traditional gallery role and getting to see the artwork in this new conceptual realm - it makes you look at the artwork in a new way.”  

    Pennington, who was an MFA student during her prior ArtFields exhibition, says attending as a CCU faculty member brings a new dimension to the experience.

    “It’s exciting that I’m part of this community and we’re together, exhibiting in this space,” she says.

    “Repose” by Alex KnoxKnox says it’s rewarding on many levels for faculty and students to participate in the festival. 

    “We all want to see Myrtle Beach, Conway and this part of South Carolina have an alive and well art scene.  ArtFields is our major annual exhibition, so to participate in that supports the cause. You have to support it by being active, and I think that’s what’s great about our department – we’re all very active.”

    Knox notes that allowing students to see faculty exhibiting and even winning prizes establishes a model for students’ aspirations.

    “It’s important for them to see their professors in action,” Knox says, “to see what an actual exhibition looks like and not just look at pieces online -  to see things in real life and get to experience those pieces in the flesh.”

    Smith created “The Process of Thought” as a student in Knox’s Sculpting I class in Fall 2016 for an assignment to make a sculpture that incorporates 500 of any one item.  Smith selected lightbulbs and made 500‌‌‌ plaster casts.

    “The only stuff I’ve ever had displayed anywhere is in a magazine,” says Smith. “So this is my first show. It’s really cool, being a student and then my teacher who I did the piece for, she’s in the same show.”

    The icing on the cake, of course, is the hefty $50,000 grand prize, bestowed on CCU art faculty in 2013 and 2016. James Arendt, assistant professor of art, won for his work “Jamie,” a cut-denim piece, and Charles Clary, assistant professor of art, took home the prize last year for “Be Kind Rewind,” an installation piece simulating a 1980s video store with rows of VHS boxes imprinted with paper designs.

    Whether or not it yields money in the bank, ArtFields is a significant intrinsic reward for faculty, students and visitors alike.

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By Sara Sobota
Photos by Haley Yarborough