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George Patrick McLeer’s DNA is wired for art. Bright colors, mournful melodies, a pithy phrase. No matter the medium, he loves to lose himself in an artist’s interpretation and presentation of ideas. The 29-year-old dove into theatre and music as a child—he even played the trombone at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville. But over time, G.P. realized he was better at managing art than making it. So, the self-described “policy wonk” studied arts management at the College of Charleston, and returned to the Upstate to create environments and infrastructure for artists to thrive. Eighteen months ago, the direct and well-spoken patron took the helm of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, which is poised to enter its most important February yet.
February 5–9 is Arts Advocacy Week. What’s planned? >> This is the first time we’ve expanded our Advocacy Day to an entire week. We’re trying to empower people to raise their voices for art across the state. So, if you can’t come to Columbia February 6th, you can do it from your own home all week long.
It’s planned in Columbia? >> We’re starting with 300 chorale students on the State House steps. More than 200 advocates will show up to greet legislators as they arrive and tell them about the importance of the arts, and then a luncheon is following that.
What’s your biggest challenge? >> Every year, for the last 6–7 years, the arts have faced cuts or proposed cuts to funding at the state level by different governors. We’ve had to help coordinate advocates to talk to their representatives, and work with politicians of all parties on making sure the arts stay supported at the state level. We’ve been successful at that, but we need to make sure it happens every year.
Does it matter who’s in office? >> No. Whoever is elected to any office, we work with them. We’ll work with any politician on any side of the aisle. Everyone’s impacted by the arts. No matter if you walk into a gallery or theatre, your community is impacted by them.
Can you demonstrate that? >> The creative sector, which is artists and art organizations, has a $9.7 billion impact on our state. It also represents a workforce of 115,000. That’s a pretty big number in South Carolina and a pretty substantial piece of our tapestry.
What are your favorite stops on the art scene? >> I always try to go to First Fridays whenever I can, whether it’s in The Village, Taylors Mill, or downtown Greenville. Very close to that, I have a bunch of good music friends in this area, and wherever they’re playing, I try to see them. Tipsy Music Pub, Smiley’s, Chicora Alley.
Greenville’s come a long way. >> I grew up in Anderson. We never came to Greenville except to go to the mall. Now it’s a 180-degree difference. There’s so much to do. My fiancé and I will browse through Facebook events, and there are so many bands we want to see, art shows we want to go to, author talks at M. Judson. I like to call Greenville a creatively corporate town. Everything is based off of a creative energy, from the burgeoning arts district, to communities outside the city limits.
You split your week working with artists, artist groups, and lawmakers. Have you discovered an overall theme? >> The arts are engrained in every facet of our community. The arts are always good for the community. People want to have a vibrant life day in and day out, and the general public understands that the arts are a crucial part of that.
“Everyone’s impacted by the arts. No matter if you walk into a gallery or theatre, your community is impacted by them.”
This year includes a fiftieth celebration of the South Carolina Arts Commission, and 30 years of Arts in Basic Curriculum project (ABC)? >> Yes. ABC reaches 167,000 students across the state, including those in Greenville County. In the world of arts education, South Carolina has been on the forefront of a lot of different things. We have to make sure we have the capacity to grow them for longevity.
You’ve visited Nashville, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and Atlanta for the job. How does Greenville compare? >> The common thread with Greenville is that art is valued. But all of these cities are huge by nature, and you can lose the connection. What Greenville brings to the table, and makes it a really enjoyable experience, is it’s a community rooted in the arts. If you live here, you probably know someone in a show at the Children’s Theatre or a musician downtown. That gives ownership to everyone and brings us all closer to the arts community and gives us a bigger foothold.
Visit SCArtsAlliance.net to explore ways to support the arts during Arts Advocacy Week, February 5–9, and all year long.