Beaufort News

The Local Life: Creative artists remind us why art education is important

'The best way to protect our First Amendment right of freedom of expression is to teach and promote the arts," said Arthur Segal of Hilton Head Island, gracefully ending a string of jokes a friend and I were cracking about all the political attempts to veto the arts.

These are attempts which have consistently failed in South Carolina thanks to outspoken art supporters who made phone calls to legislators and showed up for gallery openings and plays. Thanks to you all.

Segal's assertion is lovely and accurate: That art you see is the sight of independence. The list of how this defense happens is long, and the individuals who act on it are important. When I emailed Segal for more insight, his reply was that he believes this with all his heart.

"When a country begins to burn books and ban art," he wrote, "it soon will begin to ban other forms of expression and burn people. Thank God I have not personally experienced the negative, but relatives of mine did in pre-World War II Germany. But I have experienced the flip side. I have seen locally, and in many countries, children and adults breaking away from isolation and having spiritual growth via participation in the arts."

So the generators of art belong in his quote, too. People like Jessica Montgomery, who is interning at ARTworks while on summer break from college in Michigan. For one entire weekend earlier this month, she occupied the display window of The Gallery on Bay Street in a performance called "Art + Exploration." She placed long sheets of mylar on the interior walls, placed two chairs outside as a signal for tourists and locals strolling to enjoy the performance, and created amazing images of floating, bubbling, realistic sea life.

"I took a risk coming to Beaufort," she explained, "now I'm taking another risk.

"At school I hate working in the classroom because people are watching. But this is a new opportunity, and in a way I'm kind of sick of holding back. It's not worth it to be so self-conscious; my parents have been telling me that for years."

By creating in public, she wants to show that art is "an additive and subtractive process, because it's all about exploring. If a line doesn't work, then erase it."

Jessica was recently accepted into the competitive ArtPrize, where she will display a life-size painting of a hammerhead shark.

Writer-artist Michele Roldan-Shaw of Bluffton also stood in the spotlight that weekend, on stage in the black box theater at ARTworks. She read from (and sold) her new zine, a hand-crafted piece of art with pages of text and images. Standing on stage alone was the least of the risks she took in exploring for her art. The zine is called "Rambler's Life: The South," and details the road trip she took, accompanied by her dog Coosaw, through South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and neighboring states.

This 125-seat theater is designed so that only a few feet separate audience and stage -- as she read, Michele could make eye contact with friends in the audience, as well as the strangers listening to her most personal words. How does being in the spotlight alone compare to being on the road alone?

"At this point, neither is particularly stressful," she said. "As in my Blue Ridge Parkway story, I have a really great imagination, so when I'm out of my comfort zone, I start dreaming up stuff, and I tell myself to see only the good. On stage, I know this material backward and forward. I've always liked to read aloud."%09

Her travels and zine series are not complete; next she's off to cross the country, followed by the probability of South America and the possibility of Madagascar.

"Theoretically, anyone can do this, but even more, you can do whatever theoretically you want to do," she said.

That was just one brief weekend in Beaufort. Upcoming freedom of expression includes: A "Thousand Points of Peace" show by a veteran, at ARTworks; new work by Cabell Heyward at the Charles Street Gallery; "Quilting the Sun," a play by poet Grace Cavalieri at ARTworks; sweetgrass basketmaker Jery Bennett-Taylor at Penn Center; and the Beaufort Art Association will feature Susan Ellzey and then Joan Templer.

Segal concluded: "The arts are a prized asset of ours, and need continual nourishment as they in turn nourish us."