The Beaufort Arts Council has opened an arts and crafts school designed for "people of all ages and skill levels."
Called the Mather Academy, the school is housed within the nonprofit's Boundary Street office in Beaufort where it currently has four classrooms though the council is working to "refine" those spaces and has plans to expand into a space it is renting next door, executive director Kim Sullivan said by phone recently.
The opening of the school comes after the arts council, which rebranded itself in September, changed the scope of its mission to focus more on educational offerings.
Sullivan, who has more than 25 years of combined experience in arts education and studio work, was brought on board in August to help with the restructuring efforts.
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An artist herself, Sullivan is charged with expanding the academy's program offerings, recruiting area artists to lead the classes, designing curriculums and seeking out donors to "sponsor" or fund courses and scholarships.
Both Sullivan and council board president Dick Stewart pointed to the successes of similar arts and crafts schools that have capitalized on their region's offerings -- schools such as the Penland School of Crafts in Asheville, N.C., and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn. -- and hope to use those programs as the model for the Mather Academy.
Beaufort's unique blend of history and culture and pre-existing arts community, they say, is a "natural draw" for those interested in attending such a school.
"... Not just for visual arts but for the performing arts and media arts as well," Sullivan said. "Artists like to study from other artists, so providing an area where people can come in and learn from these instructors is what we want to do."
Already, Sullivan has designed curriculums for such coursework as drawing and painting, but said the council is "working in phases" to create additional programming for both children and adults and aims to offer advance programs of study that build on introductory coursework.
"As we hire teachers, we will be adding additional classes," she said.
A website for the academy listed eleven classes including "Beginner Figure Drawing" taught by Janet Horton to "Paintin de Gullah Story," an acrylic painting course led by Dianne Britton-Dunham.
Class costs range from $40 to $60 for a one-day course to $120 to $170 for a three-day course.Other areas Sullivan said the academy would eventually like to offer include glass, metal working, pottery and culinary arts.
"And our goal is that eventually we would have these classes accredited," she said.
In addition to receiving accreditation, the council is working to build partnerships with the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry with the hopes of offering "support classes" or classes the colleges do not currently offer.
The council is already working with the technical college to collect and archive memories and materials related to the Mather School, for which the academy is named.
Founded in 1867 to educate the daughters of liberated slaves, the Mather School taught reading and writing as well as domestic arts such as sewing and cooking. Over the next half century, the school grew and eventually became Mather Industrial School in the 1930s and a junior college in the 1950s.
Eventually, the trade school was absorbed into the state's technical college system where it found new life as Beaufort Technical College and then the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
As part of its "Mather Memories" initiative, the arts council is working to videotape interviews with anyone affiliated with the school -- whether alumni, former faculty or a relation to someone -- and to collect photos and items such as journals.
In fact, an exhibit on Mather School, which the council hopes to add to, is currently on display at its Boundary Street location.
"This is a story that needs to be told," Sullivan said.
The new Mather Academy, she said, will work to build on the legacy of the Mather School and highlight the arts and crafts traditions of the Lowcountry.
"We wanted to continue the name but with those same core values -- that everyone deserves an education," Sullivan said.
Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.