Walter J. Graver, a longtime advocate for the arts on Hilton Head Island and champion for a larger arts venue, died Monday afternoon at Hilton Head Hospital. He was 96.
He had pneumonia, said his wife, Lois Graver.
“Two weeks ago he was in perfect health, working like crazy on a foundation board he chaired called Youths Friends,” Lois Graver said.
Graver was involved with the arts on Hilton Head since moving full-time to the island in 1986, including the inception of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, and the Hilton Head International Piano Competition.
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He founded a nonprofit organization called Community Vision of Hilton Head, which spent a decade and at least $100,000 studying the island arts scene before advocating a new multi-million-dollar arts and entertainment center.
They said it could have a $500 million economic impact on the region over a five-year period.
He was a past president of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and served for many years on the Hilton Head Cultural Council.
The foundation he chaired focused its grants on inspiring young people through the arts. It included support for the arts programs at Hilton Head Island High School and Hilton Head Christian Academy.
In his most recent letter to the editor, he continued to push the arts as a driving force of the economy, and his belief that a larger arts venue is needed to keep that economic engine running.
He said that would be a logical follow to the work of the defunct Town of Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corporation.
“We already, in fact, have a ‘business’ that could expand exponentially, with the right ‘programs/actions.’ That ‘business’ is the quality of life business — arts, culture, history, entertainment and adult education, all of which make Hilton Head a more desirable place to visit, live and invest,” Graver wrote in July.
“As a business, it already has much of the ‘machinery’ needed — theaters, orchestra, art and dance studios, International Piano Competition, discussion groups, choral groups and historic organizations.
“What is needed is a coordinated, year-round program and a marketing plan that will bring new and different customers, particularly in the off-season. But what is needed most are new facilities to house its now badly restrained ‘machinery’ so that it can create the finest quality product.”