The Local Life

Devil in the details: Arts should lead the way for Beaufort tourism

November 23, 2010 

Earlier this month, I was volunteering at the wine reception table during a production of "Steel Magnolias" by the Palmetto Theater Experiment. Two women walked up to the table. One said, "Oh, I have to tell you about this bottle of wine I got," to her friend with a tone of urgency. Not being a wine aficionado myself, I asked. "Was it good or bad?"

"I don't know," she replied. "It's called Vino del Diablo." Her friend didn't say anything, so she continued: "That means wine of the devil! I just don't know what my grandmother would think of me having that in the house!" Her friend asked for a glass of chardonnay, and since a free bottle of wine always bodes well for me, I suggested that the name meant that it was really good.

For my volunteer efforts, I got to catch the play that night -- kudos to the cast and crew -- and in the second act, the script picked up on our own conversation at the wine table:

"There is no new word on the lawsuit brought by the Rev. Q.T. Bennett against the Chinquapin Parish Board of Education. The Reverend ... has filed suit charging that the use of the devil as a mascot for our high school team encourages Satanic behavior in the youth of our community. When reached for comment about the Reverend's lawsuit, Devil's head coach Waddy Thibodeaux said, and I quote, 'Tell him to go to hell.'"

I looked across the audience but didn't see the woman, but surely after an hour and a half of being immersed in that amazing and all-too-true story of love and life-must-go-on, written by Robert Harling, these lines must have given Ms. Diablo some insight. Something she could find comfort in, for her dilemma: "There are two sides to every coin," perhaps, or a new awareness that sometimes the devil is just a marketing gimmick. Or maybe she was able to feel less tempted, since lots of people before her have been in the same wine glass she's in.

Just as "Steel Magnolias" speaks to women everywhere, when tourists come to Beaufort, our original, authentic art speaks to them, too. Every day in art galleries here visitors converse with knowledgeable gallerists and artists. The upcoming Celadon Fine Arts Festival in May provides something new to plan over coffee. The Beaufort Art Association's 49th Annual Spring Show is a milestone to brag about. Poetry & Pancakes is a monthly stage for guest and youth voice boxes and, in December, we have the Toys for Tots campaign. Natalie Daise's upcoming performance about Harriet Tubman will have people stretching their vocabulary for words beyond, "Wow." New plays, such as "The Dining Room" from Misspent Youth Productions, will give them something to tweet about.

All this word of mouth is beneficial to the residents and the tourism industry in Beaufort, and it's generated by individual artists and gallerists who provide the time, effort and money. Just ask Kim Keats, Tina Fripp, the Longo family, Anita Prather, Hank Herring, Sandy Dimke, Natalie Daise, or e-mail me for a complete list. Their carefully considered and well-crafted investments are not the results of committees and studies. Instead, they have a better form of action and commerce than that.

Tourism can't be bought, but it can be inspired, provoked and multiplied with the fruits of these artists' investments.

As we reconsider community priorities for business and taxes and quality of life, people must count our local cabaret of artists (and their arts administrators, audiences and collectors). Count on them, and count them in, too -- because all these people add up to the wonderfully accurate and authentically inexact number of what it takes to market a region.

Lisa Annelouise Rentz is the transmedia publicity leader for ARTworks in Beaufort Town Center and the creator of the Beaufort SC 365 arts and travel app.

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