Greenville’s arts scene ranks with country’s best

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Greenville’s arts scene just keeps getting better. The city has snagged a spot on the Top 10 list for “business-supported art scenes” in the fifth edition of John Villani’s “100 Best Art Towns in America,” due for release in spring 2010.

Here are some of the organizations that contribute to that scene:

Artisphere

Artisphere, Greenville’s Arts Weekend, is a free, nationally ranked event held annually the first weekend of May in downtown Greenville. Its focal point is its juried visual arts component, which features 100 fine arts and crafts artists selling their creations. The award-winning festival also features three outdoor stages and many indoor theater venues showcasing Greenville’s local talent. The three-day festival offers cuisine from the area’s top restaurants at its outdoor cafes, as well as arts activities for children at Kidsphere. For more information, call 864-271-9398 or visit www.artisphere.us.

Bob Jones University

A timeless Old Masters collection of European sacred art dating from the 14th through the 19th centuries with a concentration in the ornate Baroque period can be found in the Upstate at the Museum and Gallery at Bob Jones University. The public is invited for a nominal fee to view these treasures available through accessible walk-in or audio guided tours. The museum’s 2-year-old downtown location at Heritage Green achieves the same mission and shares on a rotational basis some of the university’s priceless collection of Flemish, Dutch, Italian, German and Spanish artworks with the public. The downtown museum also offers a learning center for pre-school children and students from elementary through high school through interactive education. BJU is also highly regarded for its fine arts series. Its Classic Players present two fully staged productions annually, while the University Opera Association presents one grand or one comic opera annually performed by professional talent. In addition, BJU offers many faculty and student recitals and musical performances that are free and open to the public. For the museum, call 864-770-1331; for performances, 864-242-5100, ext. 5750. www.bjumg.org

Carolina Ballet Theatre

Established in 2002, CBT is a resident company of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts and the Upstate’s only wholly professional company. Each season artistic director Hernan Justo presents four main-stage productions that showcase its dancers in both classical ballet and contemporary dance performed to original choreography. CBT’s involvement in community outreach embraces more than 20 charitable organizations each holiday season to provide tickets to its “Community Nutcracker,” and tailors programs to meet the diverse classroom needs of students and teachers through arts-integrated residencies, educational performances and after-school dance programs provided by its visiting dancers. To purchase tickets to CBT performances, call the Peace Center box office at 864-467-3000. www.carolinaballet.org

Centre Stage

One of Greenville’s professional theaters, the 27-year-old Centre Stage was founded by Douglas McCoy and is currently led by artistic director, BJ Koonce. The company offers six main-stage productions each year and for the past seven years has mounted an extensive New Play Festival that has gained significant national attention. All festival events are free to the public. Centre Stage also partners with a number of local agencies, including the Greenville Technical College theater program, which use the venue as a practice learning space. Centre Stage collaborates with the Metropolitan Arts Council to provide free exhibition space to Upstate visual artists and with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra to host its highly successful Spotlight Series. The theater is located at 501 River St. For more information, call 864-233-6733 or visit www.centrestage.org.

Furman University

Furman University’s department of theater arts offers three stage production featuring student and professional talent, while its music department’s 26 performing ensembles and its students and faculty offer more than 200 open-to-the-public concerts each year. The art department showcases student, faculty and invited talent at its Thompson Art Gallery on campus. And the Richard Riley Institute for Politics and Public Policy brings to campus nationally and internationally renowned speakers. Many events are free. For the theater, call 864-294-2125; for music 864-294-2086; and for the gallery 864-294-2074. furman.edu

Greenville Chorale

Led by artistic director Bingham Vick Jr., the 160-member Greenville Chorale is the city’s only symphonic chorus. Since 1961, it has offered annual performances featuring the world’s great choral works. The organization also features annual performances by its professional core, the Chamber Ensemble, whose selections range from the inspiring to the humorous. Each year, the Chorale, through its educational outreach Young Artist Mentor Program, identifies and selects gifted high school soloists and ensemble singers for membership, through which a veteran Choral singer partners with the student at rehearsals and performances. For more information, call 864-235-1101 or visit www.greenvillechorale.com.

Greenville County Museum of Art

The Greenville County Museum of Art, located downtown at Heritage Green, represents one of the city’s most important public-private partnerships with its resulting nationally and internationally recognized collection of American art. Free and open to the public, the museum is home to the Southern Collection, with an emphasis of Southern-themed art from the Colonial period to present day, and an extensive survey of works by Andrew Wyeth and Jasper Johns. The museum offers weekly programs including gallery talks and art classes for adults and children. It has played host to a number of important traveling shows, among them the Smithsonian Museum’s touring collection. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, call 864-271-7570 or visit www.greenvillemuseum.org.

Greenville Little Theatre

Since 1926, the Greenville Little Theatre, at 444 College St., has been the city’s largest locally producing arts organization, with a rich offering of whodunits, drama, comedy, farce and classical musicals from “Carousel” to “Oklahoma.” GLT’s seasons include five main-stage productions and two special shows, at Valentine’s Day and Christmas. The 84-year-old venue stays young and current with its alternative series through its Studio 444 productions, which support emerging actors, playwrights and theatrical technicians. The theater also offers GLT on Tour, an outreach program that performs at area elementary schools. For more information, call 864-233-6238 or visit www.greenvillelittletheatre.org.

Greenville Open Studios

Greenville Open Studios is a popular annual weekend event in November for local visual artists living within a 15-mile radius of downtown Greenville. Through a self-guided tour, visitors meet and greet the artists at their studios. Each year, participating artists and hundreds of visitors turn the event into a learning experience as the artists not only demonstrate the artistic process but engage in lively conversation with their visitors. Open Studios, hosted by the Metropolitan Arts Council, also serves as an excellent sales vehicle for Greenville’s community of painters, ceramists, printmakers, photographers and sculptors. For more information, call MAC at 864-467-3132 or visit www.greenvilleARTS.com.

Greenville Symphony Orchestra

For more than 60 years, the Greenville Symphony Orchestra has made beautiful music in the Upstate. Under the leadership of music director and conductor Edvard Tchivzhel, the GSO has become one of the region’s finest symphony orchestras. Its varied seasonal programs at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts offer six Masterwork concerts performed on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons and four chamber music concerts on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. At Centre Stage theater, three Spotlight Series programs feature the orchestra’s principal musicians in small ensemble. Rounding out each season is the GSO’s annual “Holiday at Peace” pops concert, held three nights in December in the Peace Concert Hall. For more information, call 864-232-0344 or visit www.greenvillesymphony.org.

International Ballet

The Greer-based International Ballet founded by Lena Forster and led by artistic director Hennadii Bespechnyi and associate director Vlada Kysselova is a resident company of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. The classical ballet company’s three main-stage performances presented in fall, winter and spring, are rooted in Russian (Vaganova) methodology. The company’s dancers are led by principal ballerina Cara Gary. The ballet holds open auditions to secure the best local talent for all parts. From time to time, IB showcases well-known male guest artists in its lavish productions, one of which, “The Nutcracker,” is accompanied by the Greenville Symphony Orchestra led by Edvard Tchivzhel. The company also sponsors a cultural exchange program with the Ukrainian Academy of Dance, enabling its American students to train and perform at the National Opera House in Kiev, and the Ukrainian dancers to train and perform as cast members in IB’s Greenville productions. For more information, call 864-879-9404.

Metropolitan Arts Council

The Metropolitan Arts Council, or MAC, is the umbrella organization for Greenville’s arts community. Founded in 1973, MAC provides funding and other vital services, such as marketing and collaborative opportunities to individual artists, arts organizations and arts-education programs throughout Greenville County. MAC receives funding from a variety of sources, including local and state government entities, as well as donations from corporations, foundations and individuals. MAC serves as the host organization for the nationally ranked Artisphere festival. For more information, call 864-467-3132 or visit www.greenvillearts.com.

South Carolina Children’s Theatre

The 24-year-old South Carolina Children’s Theatre, led by executive director Debbie Bell and artistic director Betsy Bisson, is a resident company of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, aimed at serving and inspiring the children of the Upstate with five main-stage productions each year. SCCT also offers a year-round theater education program for children 2-18 and serves the community with its outreach programs for at-risk, disadvantaged and special-needs children. Through its newly minted in 2010 2nd Stage offerings, SCCT has added another facet to its programs with more hands-on theater experience for Greenville’s youngsters. For more information, call 864-235-2885 or visit www.scchildrenstheatre.org.

Upstate Shakespeare Festival

Led by artistic director, John Fagan the 16-year-old Upstate Shakespeare Festival brings free productions of the classics to its audiences in the summer months under the stars at Greenville’s Falls Park on the Reedy. Supported by the Warehouse Theatre and the City of Greenville Parks and Recreation, the festival players keep the audience – seated on blankets and chairs – engaged with their mostly outlandish interpretations of the Bard’s dramas and comedies and, from time to time, works by playwrights such as Moliere. While these performances are free, the company welcomes donations, which it collects post performance by wading into the willing audience. For more, visit upstateshakespearefestival.org.

The Warehouse Theatre

Founded 36 years ago, Greenville’s Warehouse Theatre, is located at 37 Augusta St. in Greenville’s Historic West End District. The Warehouse produces six contemporary and classical main-stage productions, and with each offers pre-show talks to keep its audiences well informed. Led by artistic and executive director Paul Savas, the theater offers post-graduate residencies through its Journeyman program. The Warehouse has earned national recognition for its middle and high school-based outreach program, the Wooden O, an innovative arts-integration program that brings its Journeyman actors into the classroom to teach Shakespeare. In addition, the theater’s resident company, The Distracted Globe, led by Anne and Jayce Tromsness and Jennifer Goff, presents late-night plays and imrov performances. For more information, call 864-235-6948 or visit www.warehousetheatre.com.

Related links

Coverage of the local arts scene from The Greenville News

Ann Hicks