Dadaesque Exhibit at 701 CCA

dada If someone had told me ten years ago that Columbia would be hosting an international exhibit of Dada-inspired art tonight, like 701 CCA is in fact doing, I'd have have smiled and nodded before rolling my eyes enough to make me dizzy, not sure if many of us had even heard of  the Swiss-inspired Dada movement, much less have an appreciation for it.

But such is the caliber of arts interest in 2016 Columbia, SC.  And much of this interest is built on the backs of previous arts intensives provided by Columbia Museum of Art and Columbia College whose exhibitions and attached programs dedicated to the likes of Andy Warhol and Georgia O'Keeffe have stimulated and nurtured what is becoming a passion for arts history and arts appreciation in the city. We are growing in our desire for not only more challenging art, but for the ability to understand what it is that makes some art more challenging.

Kudos to  701 Center for Contemporary Art for presenting Dadaesque, which is the culmination of their 701 CCA's Dada Days in Columbia, a series of programs through which the center has been marking the one hundredth anniversary of the Dada movement, which many art historians recognize as the impetus for most of what we now perceive as contemporary art.

“The exhibition will surprise people in that it shows the scope of Dada’s influence on contemporary art,” says 701 CCA board chair Wim Roefs, who curated the exhibition. “It’ll be surprising to know, for instance, that Columbia mainstays such as Mike Williams and Clark Ellefson create works that are firmly rooted in the Dada movement. While, like many other artists in the show, they don’t see themselves as Dada artists, they would readily acknowledge that it was the innovations of Dada that informs and facilitates at least part of their artistic output.”

The group exhibition period will run from April 13 through June 5 and in addition to featuring Columbia-based artists Clark Ellefson and Mike Williams will also feature Jason Kendall of Columbia and Colin Quashie, whom we'd still like to call our own and Hilton Head's Aldwyth. Our artists will be joined by artists from throughout the US as well as sound poet and 701 visiting resident artist Jaap Blonk and Janke Klompmaker, both from The Netherlands. There will be a Gallery Talk at 2 pm on Sunday, May 15th.

What You Need to Know About Dadaism

Need to brush up on your Dadaism? Here's a very brief primer on how this strange arts movement, which was very much anti-arts movement, fits into the bigger picture.

"Dada was born out of negative reaction to the horrors of the First World War. This international movement was begun by a group of artists and poets associated with the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich. Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition. The origin of the name Dada is unclear; some believe that it is a nonsensical word. Others maintain that it originates from the Romanian artists Tristan Tzara's and Marcel Janco's frequent use of the words "da, da," meaning "yes, yes" in the Romanian language. Another theory says that the name "Dada" came during a meeting of the group when a paper knife stuck into a French–German dictionary happened to point to 'dada', a French word for 'hobbyhorse'."

-- Dona Budd, the Language of Art Knowledge

  • Dada or Dadaism was a form of artistic anarchy born out of disgust for the social, political and cultural values of the time. It embraced elements of art, music, poetry, theatre, dance and politics.


  • “The beginnings of Dada,” poet Tristan Tzara recalled, “were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.”


  • For Dada artists, the aesthetic of their work was considered secondary to the ideas it conveyed. “For us, art is not an end in itself,” wrote Dada poet Hugo Ball, “but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”


  • Dadaists both embraced and critiqued modernity, imbuing their works with references to the technologies, newspapers, films, and advertisements that increasingly defined contemporary life.


 For more on Dadaism click here and here, too.

CALL for Artists: Deadline for 701 CCA Prize 2014 Nears

Call to Artists 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, S.C., announces the second installment of the 701 CCA Prize, an art competition and exhibition for professional South Carolina artists 40 years and younger occurring every other year. The project will take place this year with a juried process resulting in a October – December exhibition for the competition’s three finalists and an award celebration announcing the winner. Eligible artists are invited to apply for the 701 CCA Prize by completing and submitting the application package by September 8, 2014.


“With this second installment of the 701 CCA Prize, 701 Center for Contemporary Art continues to add a crucial component to the eco-system and infra-structure for artists and the visual arts in South Carolina,” 701 CCA board chair Wim Roefs said. “The 701 CCA Prize is the most important platform to highlight some of the extraordinary young talent in South Carolina, and as such, this competition and exhibition has come to fill a void, not unlike 701 CCA South Carolina Biennial has with respect to a regular overview of contemporary art in our state.”


The project’s purpose is to identify and recognize artists 40 years and younger whose work is exemplary in its originality, shows awareness of artistic developments and is of high artistic merit. The 701 CCA Prize will be awarded to one young professional South Carolina artist for outstanding art production since January 1, 2012. Aside from the age requirement, eligible artists must currently live in South Carolina. They must have or have had a solo exhibition in a museum, art center, regular commercial gallery or a designated gallery space in a cultural facility between September 1, 2012 – September 1, 2014. They also must fulfill several practical requirements outlined in the application guidelines. The application fee is $25.


An independent jury of three art professionals will select three finalists for the 701 CCA Prize. The three finalists will be included in the 701 CCA Prize Exhibition from October 30 – December 21, 2014, at 701 CCA. The exhibition’s opening reception will be October 30. The 701 CCA Prize Winner will be announced during the 701 CCA Prize Celebration on November 27, 2014.


The 701 CCA Prize Winner will receive a six-week, paid residency at 701 CCA; a solo exhibition at 701 CCA; consultation services from a professional advertising and marketing firm; and an ad in a national publication. The jurors for the 701 CCA Prize 2014 will be announced later.


“The 701 CCA Prize is loosely based on the Turner Prize for artists in the United Kingdom,” board chair Roefs said. “The Turner Prize is one of the most prestigious art awards in the world and generates a lot of exposure for and excitement about the finalists. While the 701 CCA Prize differs in several ways from the Turner Prize, we hope that with a South Carolina context, it will trigger similar interest and excitement.”

For further inquiries, contact or call Sheldon Paschal at (803) 319.9949.

About the 701 CCA Prize:  The 701 CCA Prize, organized by 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, S.C., is an art competition and exhibition for young professional South Carolina artists. The project’s purpose is to identify and recognize artists 40 years and younger whose work is exemplary in its originality, shows awareness of artistic developments and is of high artistic merit. The 701 CCA Prize will be awarded to one artist for outstanding art production since January 1, 2012. Summary of Procedures Applications must be in the possession of 701 CCA by September 8, 2014, 5:00 p.m. An independent jury of three art professionals will select three finalists for the 701 CCA Prize based on, first, artistic merit as shown through provided images and, second, supporting materials about the applicants’ art production and career. The three finalists will be included in the 701 CCA Prize exhibition at 701 CCA. Works by each finalist for the 701 CCA Prize exhibition will be selected by a 701 CCA curatorial team.   The 701 CCA Prize winner will be selected from the three finalists by the independent jury based on the artists’ applications. The 701 CCA Prize winner will be announced during the 701 CCA Prize Celebration on November 27, 2014. The Prize Package The 701 CCA Prize winner will receive: ■ A six-week, paid residency at 701 CCA; ■  A solo exhibition at 701 CCA; ■  An ad in a national art publication concurrent with the solo exhibition. ■  Consultation services from a professional advertising and marketing firm; Members of the 701 CCA Prize 2014 jury will be announced later. Crucial Dates July 11 – September 8, 2014 Application Period September 16 Public Screening of Selected Prize Applicants September 17 – 19 Jury Selections September 24 Announcement of Three Finalists October 30 Exhibition Opens October 30 Exhibition Opening Reception November 27 Prize Celebration and Announcement of Winner December 21 Exhibition Closes Application Fee The application fee is $25, which must be included with the completed application. Eligible Artists Eligible artists must: ■ Currently live in South Carolina; ■ Be a professional artist 40 years or younger on October 30, 2014; ■ Have had or have a solo exhibition in a museum, art center, commercial gallery or a designated gallery space in a cultural   facility between  September 1, 2012 – September 1, 2014 (exhibitions in venues that are, as determined by 701 CCA, not  professional art institutions and/or primarily an art institution, such as restaurants, coffee shops, stores, bars, etc., are not    eligible); ■ Have by September 24, 2014, available a body of work in one or more visual art medium/media completed after January 1,    2012, substantially enough to fill approximately one-third of the 2,500 square feet gallery space at 701 CCA. In case of    performance art work, high quality DVD representations of past performances must be available.  Performance artists will be    required to provide a schedule of no less than 3 public performances during the exhibition period.  In case of site-specific    installation art, artists must be willing and able to create a site-specific installation at 701 CCA for the 701 CCA Prize exhibition    between October 23 – 28, 2014.  ■ Agree to deliver art works selected for the 701 CCA Prize exhibition with requested paperwork to 701 CCA on Friday or   Saturday, October 19 or 20, 2014.  ■ Be available to attend the opening reception of the 701 CCA Prize exhibition on October 30, 2014, AND the 701 CCA Prize    celebration on November 27, 2014, during which the 701 CCA Prize winner will be announced. Required Application Materials To apply, the following materials must be provided on DVD or CD unless otherwise noted: 1. The completed and signed Application Form. (Hard Copy) 2. Ten (10) high-quality, digital images, 300 dpi or more (visual and craft artists) or 3 videos (media and performance artists) of art works completed since January 1, 2012. The images must show art works strongly related to what would be available for the 701 CCA Prize exhibition. 3. The images or videos must be accompanied by a completed Checklist Form. The information in the image documents headers must first list the artist’s last name, then the number corresponding to the image’s number in the checklist, then the checklist information. 4. Documentation of one solo exhibition fitting the criteria described under “Eligible Artists.”   The solo exhibition documentation MUST include: a).  A completed Solo Exhibition Documentation Form signed by the artist AND the director, curator, board chair, owner or    other person in charge of the art venue where the exhibition took place. (Hard Copy)  b).  An original invitation to the solo exhibition (Hard Copy).                 c).  Gallery installation shots, reviews, exhibition brochures, publications, articles, etc., that document the solo exhibition. 5. A resume/CV. 6. A bio of no more than 300 words. 7. An artist’s statement of no more than 300 words addressing the applicant’s general artistic vision and how this vision applies to   his or her art production since January 1, 2012, as shown in the images included with the application. 8. A check for $25 payable to 701 CCA. Submitting Applications Applications containing the DVD/CD with all required forms and materials, hard copies of other required forms and the artist’s solo exhibition invitation and a check for $25 should be received no later than September 8, 2014, 5:00 p.m., at 701 CCA. Questions: Contact us at or contact Sheldon Paschal at 803.319.9949. Mail application to: 701 CCA 701 CCA Prize P.O. Box 12822 Columbia, S.C. 29211 Application materials will not be return


Columbia Open Studios returns with fresh artists, April 5-6

Artist - Jean Capalbo  

Like the other Open Studios events around the country – unaffiliated, much like the First Thursdays phenomenon – Columbia Open Studios has grown to be a widely anticipated annual art event around the Midlands. Presented by 701 Center for Contemporary Art, the free, self-guided tour opens the doors to visual artists’ studios across the region on April 5 and 6, 2014.


The first weekend in April, thousands of people will venture out to chat with artists about every aspect of their work, meet fellow art lovers and purchase favorite pieces, if they wish, at zero markup. Guidebooks are available at various locations around town and at 701 CCA, located inside historic 701 Whaley on the 2nd floor. Nearly a dozen of these artists are new or returning to the tour after a hiatus, yielding a variety of new stories, inspirations and techniques for tour goers. Artists take full advantage of their personal backgrounds, favorite art-making tools and studio spaces, proving that inspiration can be found in the most typical and seemingly mundane places.


Curious about the kind of experience you’ll get during Columbia Open Studios?

Learn more about a few of the tour’s newest artists before mapping out your weekend of studio-hopping.


Renea Eshleman, Cayce   Renea Eshleman serves as the Associate Director of Academic Affairs for the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. Such a hefty title could certainly mean a challenging work day – which is why she sees art as her therapy.   Eshleman makes her own jewelry and is also a painter, using her “mother-in-law-suite”-turned-studio to house her supplies. The studio is readily accessible for loading/unloading art and supplies from the adjoining garage, which also serves as a spill-over space for too-good-to-pass-up art display units and frames.   A small porch and French doors to the outside inform her jewelry-making, providing a source of inspiration outside her chaotic yet comfortable space.          


Jean Capalbo, Shandon Extensive travel and a professional background in education are Jean Capalbo’s muses. In fact, she was in Tanzania in March, observing animals on the Serengeti and other African plains. (Her painting in the near future will undoubtedly be influenced by this trip.)   She has served as a school administrator and a teacher, enjoying the field in its entirety due to its creative core. Specializing in acrylic and oil painting, Capalbo is always searching for unique mediums to craft surface designs, including everything from plastic doilies to foam stamps.   Capalbo has recently relocated to the Carolinas from Sedona, AZ. She has painted all her life, taking time to study the field at UCLA, Santa Monica College, USC (our USC that is) and Sedona Art Center in Arizona.


Charlene Wells, Melrose Heights/Millwood Wells is one of four Open Studios artists operating out of Viridian Gallery & Studio on Carlisle Street. She refers to the area as a developing “art block,” boasting not only another studio, but also several other artists, an architect and an interior decorator.   Wells has studied under many accomplished artists. While painting under Reuben Gambrell, she met a handful of fellow artists with whom Viridian was later formed. Her paintings of subjects from the created world are allegorical expressions that she hopes will inspire a viewer to pause, study and decipher the symbol - while also noting her expression of color and value.


Returning to the tour are Tim Floyd and Jan Swanson. Other newcomers are John & Venetia Sharpe, Patrick Mahoney, Lindsay Wiggins, Lisa Strally and Mary Lynn Williams.


  • Find out more about your old favorites as well as the new talent on 701 CCA’s Columbia Open Studios website:
  • Get a guide at 701 CCA (701 Whaley, 2nd floor) or at art-loving venues around town.
  • Preview Party Thursday, April 3, 7-10pm at 701 CCA, $5/$10 with cash bar and complimentary hors d’oeuvres.
  • Tickets:
  • The Columbia Open Studios tour Presented by 701 Center for Contemporary Art Saturday and Sunday, April 5-6, 2014
  • Free!

bittersalt bittersweet -- Michaela Pilar Brown's new performance art opens this Thursday at 701 CCA

Michaela Pilar Brown in bittersalt bittersweet  



Michaela Pilar Brown's 

bittersalt bittersweet


Thursday, December 19, 2013, 7;00 p.m. 

701 Center for Contemporary Art -701 Whaley Street, 2nd Floor

Admission Free


Performance: “the most immediate art form… for it means getting down to the bare bones of aesthetic communication—art/ self-confronting audience/ society.”—Lucy Lippard


Performance art is a generic term that encompasses such styles as conceptual art, body art, and feminism, as well as very specific art movements like Fluxus and Viennese Actionism. The style gained popularity in the 1960s when visual artists began abandoning the object for a more direct mode of expression. Subverting linear theatrical narratives for spontaneous and honest interaction with audiences in response to social and political concerns connect the artworks placed within this classification.


Parallels can be drawn between Michaela Pilar Brown’s performance, Bittersalt Bittersweet, and a myriad of influential performance pieces including Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964) and Marina Abramović’s The Artist Is Present (2010). Her piece also follows in the tradition of African-American artist Adrian Piper’s conceptual work that first brought race and gender into the conversation, as well as the Kara Walker and Lorna Simpson’s deconstruction of stereotypes. The strength of this performance is that it combines elements of all of the aforementioned sources. Here, Brown forces participants to engage on an intimate level with her, while having to make difficult decisions about her, which have the potential to elicit unexpected responses in both the sitter and audience. Challenging inappropriate modes of representation of marginalized people, Brown stages the performance within a tent, clearly referencing P.T. Barnum’s commodification and exploitation of Joice Heth. The setting also works in concert with sideshow exhibits featuring “exotic” peoples from other countries. The Dahomey Village, one of the Midway attractions at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition nicknamed “The White City,” comes to mind and reinforces the Baudelairian voyeurism made prominent by Barnum. Looking from past to present, Brown’s work is analogous with Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña whose performance, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992), blurred the lines between fiction and reality. The stereotypes personified were sometimes believed to be historically accurate, sometimes feared for the anxiety-inducing unknown of what the performers might do, and sometimes irritating because of the overt commentary on racism and oppression. Bittersalt Bittersweet continues the debate about race in America, but it is more focused on the treatment of women. On an even deeper level, this performance is a personal exploration into the psyche of the artist as she rejects societal definitions ascribed to African-American women for the preferred titles of daughter, sibling, partner, lover, caregiver, and role model.


By Lana A. Burgess, Ph.D.

Faculty Curator, McKissick Museum

University of South Carolina


The Power of the Pistol -- John Acorn at 701 CCA, opens Thursday



Contemporary art's purpose is to shock, be bold, daring, and brave. Explosive even. As we view a piece of cutting-edge art, there is a movement unlike anything else-- a visceral and raw, examination of societal, political, and personal issues. The art speaks to us because, frankly, the art is us. Charged with the ideals of humanity and the talent of an artist, contemporary works speak to us in ways that no other form of art can. It is for these reasons and more that South Carolina's renowned contemporary artist John Acorn is revealing his latest endeavor, Project Pistols, at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art from June 28th-August 12th.

With his latest installation, which seeks to discover the nuances of human nature through personifying day-to-day objects like a pendent, a pizza, lifesavers, a Palmetto tree, a heart, a crown, a wreath, a T-shirt, a person, and a skull, Acorn achieves new artistic heights. He does this through crafting these confections with something which he feels our culture is fascinated: firearms.

Yes, Acorn, who retired as chairman of Clemson University's art department in 1998, seeks to create a commentary about the aspects of life that bombard us through a medium that frightens, entices, and sometimes controls us. “My interest in using the pistol as a subject or theme for my recent artwork is part of my ongoing search and inquiry into the nature of our species, human beings,” Acorn says. “I do not intend to be a crusader or missionary on issues regarding firearms. I do admit, however, to wondering about the fact that my culture is so enamored with firearms.”

The nature of this installation will be full of harsh contrasts and shocking juxtapositions. In many of his pieces, Acorn associates day-to-day things like cars and books with the hard, daunting feelings of a pistol. For example, in his piece Life Savers for Pistols, Acorn drew inspiration from a normal SUV proclaiming “Guns Save Lives.” John also constructs food in his piece Pie of Pistols, which references a California pizza restaurant that refused to serve men who were armed. The social commentary and everyday occurrences are shrewdly exhibited in these pieces and more of Project Pistols, which even include a large charm bracelet, inspired by “a purchase of a birthday gift for my granddaughter, Mary,” according to Acorn.



Acorn was born in 1937 in Patterson, New Jersey, receiving a fine arts B.A from Montclair State College and later an MFA at the Cranbook Academy of Art. Sculpting was Acorn’s first artistic passion and this fervency has remained constant throughout his career. He cites Paul Harris as one of his many inspirations. He started work at Clemson University in 1961 as an art professor and later became chairman of the department in 1976. “John is an insightful critic, a gentle supporter, a model professional. He’s also a wonderful artist and craftsman,” local architect and 701 CCA board member Doug Quackenbush said. Even through decades and decades of teaching, working, creating, and living, Acorn’s passion for sculpting has stayed fiery and ardent. “I confess to being addicted to making things,” Acorn said. On his latest installation in finding art in everyday life, Acorn confesses that the “enlargement of objects and their positioning alter or transform them into new images.”

These new images are exciting the people at 701 CCA, for they feel Acorn’s project is a breath of fresh air in the world of contemporary art. “It is very good. It is spectacular even. It is ambitious and consists of work that is very smart in its conception and just beautifully executed. What Acorn has created is a brave commentary on our culture in visually spectacular works of art. His work is constantly relevant and cutting edge,” Wim Roefs, chair of 701 CCA board of directors, said. The installations is causing much excitement for Clemson alumni and arts lover alike, and even more so for 701 CCA, whose staff cannot wait to see what Acorn’s works will do for the gallery. “We’ve never done anything like this before. It is visionary,” Roefs said.

The exhibition is sponsored in part by Columbia, S.C., architectural firms Catalyst Architects, Garvin Design Group, J. Timothy Hance, Architect, P.A., Jumper Carter Sease Architects, Quackenbush Architects + Planners, and The LPA Group. Acorn’s reception for Project Pistols will be on Thursday, June 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is free and non-members are suggested to give a $5 donation.


-- Christopher Rosa, Jasper intern

Call for Artists Deadline: January 31 for Columbia Open Studios

701 Center for Contemporary Art (701 CCA) is excited to announce the return of Columbia Open Studios on April 21-22, 2012!


Now part of the 10-day Indie Grits Festival!

This weekend-long event will take place on Saturday and Sunday April 21-22, 2012 as an official festival partner of The Nickelodeon Theatre's 6th annual Indie Grits Festival – now 10 days, the festival's other partners include Morihiko and the SC Philharmonic, Slow Food Columbia, Crafty Feast, the smash hit ConvergeSE interactive conference, live music all over town, and the Spork in Hand Puppet Slam at Indie Grits.


Save the date for the Open Studios Preview Party and Indie Grits Festival kickoff bash, Thursday April 19, in the Grand Hall, 701 Whaley!


What is 701 CCA Columbia Open Studios?

It's a self-led, driving tour of artists’ working studios spans the City of Columbia and Richland and Lexington Counties, showcasing the Midlands’ talented visual art community.

Artists open their studios to the public from 10am-6pm on Sat., April 21 and noon-6pm on Sun., April 22. Participation fee is $100 for 701 CCA members and $150 for non-members (comes w/one-year Family membership), plus a $50 refundable deposit. Artists keep 100% of sales -- 701 CCA takes no commissions.


Statewide marketing plan and more

The statewide+ marketing plan includes distribution of 60,000-80,000 printed program guides in hip cultural spots as far as Asheville, Charleston and Augusta, plus a massive social media campaign, statewide PR + advertising (and into Asheville, etc.), road signs, partnership support from the "Famously Hot" Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau with their out-of-market outreach efforts, and much more.

As a nonprofit visual art center, 701 CCA is committed to giving artists maximum exposure at the most minimum cost possible.




Artists who have registered thus far:

Artist Studio Name Website
Alejandro Garcia-Lemos Friday Cottage ArtSpace
McClellan Douglas McClellan Douglas Jr.
Grace Rockafellow Grace Rockafellow
Patrick Parise Southern Printworks
Nancy Will Nancy Will
Laurie McIntosh Vista Studios #6
Joseph and Kelly Shull jellykoe
Richard Lund Richard Lund Art Studio
Claire Farrell Claire Farrell
Nancy Butterworth Impressions Pottery
Jan Swanson Studios in the Arcade
Richard and Gay Vogt Baldmoose Studio
Lucinda Howe Lucinda Howe Art Studio
Bonnie Goldberg bonnie goldberg
Judy Bolton Jarrett ArtCan Studio/Gallery
Susan Lenz Mouse House, Inc.
Amanda Ladymon Amanda Ladymon
Alicia Leeke Alicia Leeke
Ben Compton Ben Compton Art
Ruby DeLoach The Art Party Press, Studio & Gallery


Want to be an integral part of the Indie Grits Festival and rally some new fans? Here's your chance. Artist registration deadline: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:59pm.

A Little Bit of Snark and a Good Deal of Praise -- Jeffrey Day's Art Year 2011 Review


Although the economy still sucked the arts community in Columbia just seemed to say “Screw it” and kept going.

For his last few years in the Governor’s office, when he wasn’t on the Appalachian Tail, Mark Sanford tried to zero out the budget for several state agencies, including the S.C. Arts Commission. The General Assembly never let him get far with it until his final year when some sort of deal had been struck. Then an uprising about the cuts rose up – mostly through Facebook – and legislators got an earful from art supporters all over the state. Not surprisingly, the new governor, Nikki Haley, brought out the knife as well, and she got it knocked out of her hand as well.  Made The New York Times. But expect the same fight this year.

The arts on Main Street started to coalesce after a couple of years. A gallery crawl – and all kinds of additional frills like music, theater and fire-eating – is now being held on Main Street EVERY SINGLE MONTH! That’s damn exciting especially when hundreds of people show up for all of them.

The art being shown is still  inconsistent, but there has been lots and lots of good art on display at all the locations (Frame of Mind, Anastatia and FRIENDS, S & S Art Supply, the Arcade, Tapp’s Arts Center) at one time or another. One of the best things has been the window installations at Tapp’s, but beyond the windows, the Tapp’s Art Center is still trying to figure things out. The director said earlier in the years that the upstairs studio spaces would be rented to artists who were juried in, but instead these have been turned into little “galleries” some jammed with work by a dozen artists or so.

The first South Carolina Biennial of contemporary art ran in two parts with about 25 artists at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. The first show was terrific in every way, the second was rather messy, but had some of the best artists in it. The way the show is selected needs some fine turning. Whatever the shortcomings, the show fills the huge gap left when the Triennial was killed off a few years ago. The center also needs to spend as much time and effort (or even a third as much) getting the word out about its art shows as it does about its parties and openings.

The long-time director of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, Andy Witt, has left the building. Neither Witt nor the Council are even vaguely familiar to many in the arts community, but the council still raises about $200,000 a year for distribution to arts groups and that’s an important chunk of change in these times.  It’s time for the council to take a good hard look at itself and figure out what it’s going to do other than tread water.

I’ll go against conventional wisdom here and declare that the Columbia Museum of Art is more important than the Mast General Store to Main Street. It’s actually kind of hard to keep up with everything the museum does because it does so much – from big touring exhibitions, to small shows by locals, to concerts.

The museum is closing off the year and starting the new one with a big show of Hudson River school paintings. My first walk through I thought “Wow there’s some really hackneyed stuff in here” and actually a couple other people said the same to me. Then I went back. Yes, there are sentimental things and a few pieces that are high-end tourist art, but most of it is really truly wonderful.  Except for the fact that all the paintings have glass on them.

The museum started the year with “Who Shot Rock and Roll,” a photography exhibition documenting the history of rock ‘n’ roll.  I figured it would be a door buster without much substance. Instead it was a nearly perfect show that melded documentation, a wide approach to the medium and the music, and a crazy mixed up population of big stars and unknowns. And the show was just the right size – big enough to provide real range and small enough that it wasn’t repetitious. The only thing that didn’t work for me was the huge images of David Lee Roth right by the exit.

Sandwiched between was the show of Michael Kenna’s haunting and technically-dazzling photos of Venice. This year the museum managed to have a bit of everything without stinting on quality.

The Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia has provided an outlet for all kinds of new music – from improv jazz to contemporary classical to the plain old weird and self-indulgent. One of the highlights was a chamber group from the S.C. Philharmonic. Half the audience had never been to an orchestra concert and the other half had never been to West Columbia. And about 50 people were turned away because it was sold out.

Phillip Bush, the Columbia-based pianist with a rich resume, made his first appearance with a local orchestra, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major. He and the young players sounded great.

The second concert of the season by the S.C. Philharmonic was all Mozart and all of it good. A seasoned pro playing the clarinet concerto, two teen-agers taking on a piano concerto, and a wonderful wrap-up with the “Jupiter” symphony.

Trustus Theatre founders Jim and Kay Thigpen plan to retire this spring and in the fall Jim Thigpen directed “August: Osage County” as his swan song. What a way to go out: one of the best productions at the theater during the past two decades.

As usual the Wideman-Davis Dance Company provided more surprises and depth with one more new work “Voypas.”

Many people seemed to be excited about the return of installation art to Artista Vista – and so was I since I put the show together. This is not a completely self-congratulatory note. All I did was pick artists who were good and competent and pretty nice. They did the rest. Well I did wash the windows and sweep. It was one of the best experiences of my life.