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History of the South Carolina Arts Commission

Before World War II, cultural and artistic activities lagged throughout much of the United States. But as income and education levels rose in the late 1940s and early 1950s, cultural and artistic activities proliferated, and federal officials began discussing options for a national program to support the arts.


President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order in June 1963 to create a Federal Advisory Council on the Arts. After Kennedy's assassination five months later, President Lyndon Johnson took up the arts mantle and sent to Congress a bill offering federal grant support to cultural institutions in both the arts and the humanities. The bill was signed on Sept. 29, 1965, and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was born.


In one of its first acts, the NEA provided grants to the states to study how they could best encourage the arts. A yearlong survey of South Carolina's cultural assets and potential was conducted in 1966.


On June 7, 1967, Governor Robert E. McNair signed legislation creating the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC). David C. Sennema became the SCAC's first executive director, Marvin D. Trapp the first chairman. The original mission of the SCAC was straight- forward and far-reaching: to promote and develop all the arts for all the people in the state.


The SCAC presented its first long-range plan in 1969. The program priorities in that document included arts in education, touring arts programs, and statewide awards for excellence in the arts. Of the twenty-two possible initiatives enunciated in that early report, many have been realized including the State Art Collection, the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner/Governor's Awards for excellence in the arts, artists-in-residence in the schools, and the Governor's School for the Arts.


The 1970s saw explosive growth in the state's arts programs, especially in taking the arts into schools and local communities and providing the state's first fellowship grants to artists. By 1976, SCAC programs had reached 45 of the state's 46 counties.


In 1980, the Arts Commission conducted its first Canvas of the People, a long-range public planning process that ensured local, state, and federal input into the agency's future direction. The first Canvas concentrated on identifying the needs of each county, and led to the introduction of a regional structure with arts coordinators each assigned to a six or seven-county region. The 1980 Canvas also resulted in extended outreach to rural areas of the state, heightened focus on artist development programs, and Challenge Grants to local arts organizations.


The decade of the '80s was a period of dynamic growth for the SCAC. During this time, the agency refined its goals to promote:


  • Arts in education
  • Arts in communities
  • Artistic development

During the 1980s, SCAC programs and grants encouraged the growth of more than forty arts councils and further development of other arts organizations. One of the most significant events of the late 1980s was the development of South Carolina's Arts in the Basic Curriculum (ABC) Plan, which focused on the incorporation of the arts as a basic element in the curriculum of South Carolina schools. The plan was hailed by the NEA as a national model. It inspired the Target 2000 Arts Education legislation, providing funds to the State Department of Education for annual grants to design and implement an arts curriculum in the areas of music, dance, visual arts, and drama.


The 1990s saw the publication of the comprehensive Ten-Year Plan for Arts in South Carolina. The Cultural Visions for Rural Communities program initiated a link between the arts and economic development. The Design Arts Partnership, a collaboration among SCAC, Clemson University and the SC Downtown Development Association, sponsored a successful Mayor's Institute which involved extensive design assistance in rural communities throughout the state. Audiences in South Carolina enthusiastically welcomed the construction - and renovation - of first class performing arts venues, such as Greenville's Peace Center and the Newberry Opera House. The SCAC spearheaded a statewide visual arts exhibition series. Views From the Edge of the Century was a millennium celebration of the arts that lasted from early 1999 through 2000. In 1999, a comprehensive ten-year study of the Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Plan included strategies for advancement of arts education over the next decade. In 2000, a legislative Arts Caucus was formed to inform legislators about issues affecting the arts and to advocate for arts funding.


In 2001, the SCAC again sponsored a Canvas of the People, which has resulted in a new long-range plan for the arts in our state.


The next Long Range Plan >>



A Long Range Plan for the Arts in South Carolina, 2001-2010


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We must instill at an early age the appreciation for the arts and nurture it forever.


David Shi, President
Furman University