Some of the most talented high school artists in Beaufort County joined prospective students and curious residents for tours of the University of South Carolina Beaufort's new art studios as part of its first "Celebrate the Arts" festival Friday.
Students explored galleries in the Performing Arts Center on the Beaufort campus before wandering through painting studios filled with works in progress displayed on easels.
They observed students working in the new ceramics lab and with the printmaking press. They caught a glimpse of state-of-the-art iMac computers in the graphic design lab.
They passed through the library to see renovations that have adapted it to the school's arts focus. It includes 2,000 volumes about art and computers that fold into the tables to provide a flat workspace.
"We want to open our doors to show what we've done and how much we've invested in this campus," said assistant art professor Jon Goebel.
USCB received approval in 2009 to offer a four-year degree in studio art and has renovated the Beaufort campus to support fine-arts education. The school has invested more than $1 million in the campus in the past year.
Public tours of the campus -- along with art displays, a panel discussion and activities for families and children -- will continue today. The festival is supported by the studio-art faculty, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and a grant for inter-generational learning from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Friday's activities included an awards ceremony for the university's first juried art competition for high school students. The university distributed about $20,000 in scholarships to finalists from six local high schools and displayed the students' work on campus.
Bluffton High senior Valèrie Cabanilla Vigil, 18, took first place and won a $3,000 scholarship. She said she plans to enroll in the USCB art program in the fall.
Cabanilla's mother introduced her to art as a child, as a way to make sure she behaved in church. When she started talking, her mother would pass her pens and paper so she could draw members of the congregation.
Cabanilla drew for fun through elementary and middle school, often working with her grandmother, who won art shows herself 40 years ago. Cabanilla was home-schooled as a child and didn't receive formal instruction until high school.
"I don't think I realized I had a talent until I was 13 years old," she said.
But by 16, she had sold her first painting and has since painted a mural on the wall of Fiddlers Seafood Restaurant in Ridgeland.
USCB senior Calle Schrader, one of about 30 art majors at the college, was working in the printmaking studio while young artists like Cabanilla toured the campus.
She said the school's facilities and equipment have improved in the past year, and she hopes the festival will increase awareness of the art program's resources.
"I hope more people find out about this so we can make it even bigger than it is," she said.