Andy Smith for Progress by Larry Hembree

Larry Hembree with Andy Smith and Kimi Maeda I have been asked to write a blog for “Jasper Magazine” about the upcoming election for the City Council at-large position from my perspective as an arts supporter.  I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on the election and my staunch support of candidate Andy Smith.

Over the past thirty years, I have served in both artist and arts administrator positions at several non-profit organizations in Kershaw and Richland County, and I spent several years working at the SC Arts Commission.  I have dedicated the majority of my 55 years to promoting the arts while trying to understand their power and impact.

I have served on the boards for arts organizations such as One Columbia for Arts and History, SC Theatre Association, SC Dance Association, and was an original member of SC’s Arts in the Basic Curriculum Steering Committee.

At the same time, I have also served on many other boards in Columbia not directly related to the arts including the City Center Partnership, the Congaree Vista Guild, the SC Gay and Lesbian Business Guild, and my own neighborhood association (the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association).

I also participate in other local organizations including church.  I am slightly addicted to Clemson Tigers football and USC women’s basketball.  I grew up in Greenwood, SC and attended Clemson University and the University of Georgia.  I spent a couple of years living outside South Carolina, and have been lucky to have traveled to interesting international places.  As a gay man, I recently got married in SC after a wonderful 15 year relationship with a hardworking, intelligent man with whom I share similar values.

I am  not an intellectual, and I am trying hard not to skew my thoughts in reaction to what the at-large candidates say they are going to do (or not do), how old they are, how conservative or liberal they are, whom they choose to alienate, or who endorses them.  I have followed this election closely, attended some candidates’ forums, read everything I could about all of the candidates, talked to most of them, consider myself a friend to some of them.  And I have pondered all of this ….. a lot.

I unapologetically admit that I love living in Columbia, SC.  There is nowhere else I would want to live for many reasons including the fact that I have been given great opportunities here since I moved here in 1997.  And as I get older, it becomes important to me that others who want to live a wonderful life here get the same opportunities as me.

Without a doubt, a vote for Andy Smith is a vote for the arts, but as we know, there is much more than just the arts at stake as the challenges our city encounters grow every day.

I do believe all of the candidates are nice, genuine people, and I have great respect for all of them, but when all is said and done, Andy Smith is the candidate who understands the larger picture.  If elected, I believe he would become an integral part of fostering the creative talent and energy of our city for the long haul.  His youth is obviously on his side in this case.

With Andy’s education and background, he could have lived anywhere but chose to move back to Columbia when many of his childhood friends left for other places. When I interviewed him for a job at the Nickelodeon Theatre in 2007, the first thing he told me was that he wanted to settle in Columbia and make a difference.  And he has.  He is tireless.  He is passionate.  And he has had time to see the workings of our city for a decade.

I have watched Andy travel all over the U.S. to participate in events and conferences, and then bring what he learns back to our city to figure out how we can assimilate this information and strengthen our core.  He has served on boards of national organizations, and has a huge network of visionaries all over the U.S. who are accessible to him.  And he has a similar eclectic network in our city too.

It’s important to understand that Andy is not living in a cocoon that is centered only on the arts.  One should not assume that he is going to be weak in his understanding of the plethora of other elements that go into making a strong city.  No, he has not had experience in balancing a city budget, in understanding issues related to water, sewer, police, fire protection, codes, infrastructure, etc.  But because he is committed to our city, listens, demonstrates flexibility, and has a vision for where he wants Columbia to be 20 – 30+  years from now, I am completely confident in his abilities.  I trust him to make decisions for all the people of Columbia with rational judgement, an unwavering set of solid values, and the savvy to say no when he disagrees.

To me, this race is about progress.  We like to believe Columbia is becoming a progressive city, and we need a strong progressive candidate to continue moving us in that direction.  That candidate is Andy Smith.

Please take a minute to visit Andy’s website at, and read more about him.

And please vote on November 3.