Mark Sloan has seen the Charleston arts scene change dramatically since he took the helm of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in 1994. A North Carolina native, Sloan is an accomplished artist who has exhibited across the country, and has authored or co-authored 14 books, with topics ranging from Russian contemporary art to 20th century circus life. At the Halsey, Sloan has showcases a wide range of contemporary art and brings an interactive component to each of the exhibits, in particular on each exhibit’s opening night, which usually features the artist. We sat down with him for this week’s Friday Fiver.
The Halsey’s current exhibit is “Young Contemporaries,” an annual showcase of College of Charleston students and recent grads. What trend(s) did you find in this year’s submissions?
There seems to be quite a lot of figurative work this year. It varies year to year, but the figure is present in sculpture, printmaking, photography, drawing, and painting.
The Halsey prides itself on finding art out of the mainstream to showcase. What artist with “out there” art were you most pleased to see the public’s reaction about?
Well, Jumaadi, our Indonesian visiting artist was pretty Out There, and the public seemed to eat him up. He was in residence for 45 days and did a variety of projects while here, including creating an evening of shadow puppet theater with local puppeteer Geoffrey Cormier and a group of dedicated artists and musicians, working with Academic Magnet High School students to produce an evening of shadow puppet theater that they produced, and he made an exquisite series of paintings, drawings, and cut outs that we displayed in the gallery. More than 100 people came to his going away party, so he had a big effect on our small community!
Visitors to the Halsey, particular during openings, are able to meet and chat with the artists. Tell us a little bit about the positives of the public having personal interaction with the artists.
We have always been committed to de-mystifying the creative process. One of the best ways to do that is to create opportunities for the public to interact with the artists in an informal setting. That way, people learn that artists are just like everyone else, but they happen to work in a visual medium. It has been gratifying to witness these interactions. One visitor asked artist Lonnie Holley if he could articulate his reasons for making a particular piece. His memorable response was “If I could describe it in words, I wouldn’t have to make it.”
You have been the curator since 1994. How has the art scene in Charleston changed since then?
Charleston has changed tremendously since 1994. I think the contemporary art scene has grown exponentially. It has been wonderful to watch the transformation and to have been a participant in this city-wide effort. I am so pleased to see that we now have many other venues for the display of contemporary art—both for profit and not for profit spaces. The level of sophistication is also much higher. People from other major cities who have moved here brought their expectations, and Charleston has risen to the challenge. There seems to be much more community engagement with art and artists now. I think the Kulture Klash series did a great job of breaking down barriers between artists and audiences.
If you could wave a magic wand over Charleston and make one thing happen immediately, what would that be?
You mean, if I were a fairy princess? I would magically transform the attitude toward local arts philanthropy. I have lived and worked in Richmond, Charlotte, San Francisco, and upstate New York before moving here. I can tell you that getting people to financially support non profit arts organizations is much harder here than anywhere else I have lived. It seems the people here feel entitled to it, and therefore do not give. The Halsey Institute has an even harder time fundraising because many people wrongly assume that the College provides us with all the money we need. That is certainly not the case. We have had to become quite successful at raising money through grants, private foundations outside of South Carolina, through earned income (traveling show rentals and catalogue sales), and through corporate sponsorship. We do have a robust membership program now, but it has taken years to cultivate.
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