People move to Greenville for a variety of reasons — weather, housing, air quality, the economy, the mountains, career opportunities. But recently, more and more people are relocating here for one big reason — the Greenville arts scene.
“Our cultural amenities in Greenville are miraculous, given that we’re a city of about 65,000 people,” says Alan Ethridge, executive director at Metropolitan Arts Council (MAC). “The arts in Greenville are an amazing factor in both tourism and quality of life.”
Established artists, as well as emerging artists, are relocating to Greenville for the energetic arts community and innumerable opportunities. “We are very fortunate to live in such an area where the arts are greatly valued,” Ethridge says.
Painter and artist Jeffrey Leder came from New York City over two years ago. After exhibiting in Puerto Rico and SoHo, opening a marketing firm, and owning a gallery, Leder decided it was time to leave busy New York.
Seeking warmer weather and a new place to call home, Leder discovered Greenville. During his first visit, he stumbled upon First Fridays. “I was in love with Greenville,” he says. “I said, ‘This is the place for me.’”
Mentioning the downtown galleries Art and Light Gallery, The Art Bomb Co., MAC, and Greenville Center for Creative Arts, Leder says he could sense a strong local art community. “I just love Greenville,” he says. “Everyone is very welcoming, open-minded.”
For Leder, Greenville also offered a variety of people to meet. “There’s a great core of people that were here originally and then also a lot of people who are coming in — which is one of the things I loved about New York.”
Showing his artwork locally at Art and Light Gallery, Leder has six galleries representing him in the U.S. Leder’s works combine shapes and colors to reflect his logical and emotional sides. “I like that sort of yin-and-yang combination of structure and emotion and both being in balance with each other,” he says.
At this stage of life, Leder enjoys focusing on his own work and contributing to the arts scene. “There are so many different pockets here involved in the art scene,” he says. “It’s a wonderful mix. I get different things from different organizations and different involvement.”
Doing commission work for hospitals, participating in Open Studios last year, being involved with the MAC art committee, and teaching classes and taking a class at GCCA, Leder’s life in Greenville has been saturated with art.
“This is my base, this is my home,” Leder says. “It’s where my heart is.”
After teaching at McNeese State University in Louisiana for 30 years, artist Gerry Wubben relocated to Greenville upon discovering the very active arts community two years ago.
“This is a much more energetic art scene,” he says. “Where I came from, it was a bit more isolated.” Through his earlier studio space at Hampton Station and particularly through Open Studios, Wubben and his work gained exposure in the community.
Keeping himself well-rounded as an artist, Wubben explores new things in his artwork, which includes abstracts, collages, etchings, realistic works, sculptures, and mixed media. “My main goal is to achieve the highest level that I can and then go from there,” he says.
Being an adjunct art professor at Furman University, Wubben found Greenville a place to continue his passion for teaching while concentrating on his own art like never before. “I always felt it was one of my main purposes in life to help young artists develop so that they find the artists within,” he says.
With the ever-growing local arts culture, Wubben enjoys being a part of the arts community as well as contributing to its future artists. “This is a very livable community, and I think the arts are a big part of that,” he says. “The appreciation of that is a way of life basically.”
He attributes Greenville’s arts success to local support. “The whole network is a pretty fantastic thing, promoting everybody and allowing the art to be shown for the whole community.”
Greenville’s variety is another attractive trait for Wubben. “Moving here and discovering how wonderful it is, that’s been a really delightful thing, realizing how cool this area is and how people want a well-rounded life.”
Fine art photographer Michael Pannier spent most of his life in the Mid-Atlantic, where for 30 years he owned galleries showing others’ work. Visiting Greenville over several years, Pannier and his wife decided to move.
“There are more and more people coming in, especially like me, from out of the area that find it and fall in love,” Pannier says.
They relocated in 2015 and opened the SE Center for Photography, which is now located downtown. “One of the things that really drew us to Greenville was the arts presence that was here, the talent that was here, and the support among the artists,” he says.
The SE Center serves as a studio/gallery for Pannier’s work as well as for photographers from Greenville and all around the world. Advanced workshops, juried shows, invitational shows, and “Second Saturday Coffee” events are held there.
“I wanted to do a Southeast center to promote and develop the level of photography,” Pannier says. “You’re not going to find talent like this in major metropolitan areas, much less an area like Greenville.”
Pannier, through the center, helps student artists through partnerships with Furman University, Converse College, Bob Jones University, and Anderson University. “We want to expose them to fine photography,” he says. “It’s a different world when you’re making work to hang on the wall and physically hold it.”
With smartphones making everyone a photographer, Pannier says the acknowledgment of fine art photography can be difficult. “Photography has always had a hard time being accepted as art,” he says.
Greenville provides opportunities for Pannier to share more of his own work and help other artists in the thriving local arts scene. “The support in Greenville is phenomenal both in the artists and the community and the city,” he says.
Current Art Climate
The growth of Greenville’s arts scene is evidenced through recent expansions in the cultural landscape, display opportunities in galleries and businesses, numerous collective studio/gallery areas, and popular art events. Currently, 31 art galleries exist in Greenville. In 2018, Open Studios had record-high sales — over $318,000.
Open Studios in 2002 vs. Open Studios in 2018
- 48 vs. 143 participating artists
- $7,000 vs. $200,000-plus operational budget
Information provided by MAC’s Alan Ethridge.