Clemson University’s impact on the creative arts in Greenville was on full display at the 18th annual Artisphere festival, May 6-8, 2022. The festival, which was founded in 2003 to “enhance the quality of life and economic vitality in South Carolina,” has become one of the nation’s premier fine arts festivals, returning to its pre-pandemic size and attracting 70,000 people to downtown Greenville.
The large crowds added more than $5.8 million to the local economy as people strolled up and down the gentle slopes of Main Street. Crowds spent their time enjoying cold beers and gourmet food while taking in the hundreds of artists’ displays, watching performances by musicians and acrobats, or participating in hands-on experiences like Clemson’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) exhibit.
The University’s presence at the festival was felt from one end of the closed-off street to the other. Amid the rows of white tents stretching from the West End, across the bridge over Falls Park and up the hill on the other side, alumni like 2017 grad Kym Day and current graduate student Glory Day Loflin manned spaces filled with their works. Day’s whimsical paintings like “High Plains, Lo Mein” of a cowboy feeding noodles to a horse and Loflin’s colorful multimedia pieces exploring the role of women in the South attracted steady streams of visitors. Loflin’s talents were on even broader display, as one of her paintings, “Grid-Lock: Victory Vase & ‘X’ Marks the Spot,” was the face of the festival, selected to be Artisphere’s 2022 commemorative poster.
Clemson Tigers play a huge role behind the scenes of Artisphere starting with President and CEO Kerry Murphy, a proud Clemson aluma who earned her undergraduate and master’s in Business Administration degrees in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Clemson students also served as interns to gain professional experience and art faculty and graduate students served as jurors.
“We are glad Clemson was able to return to Artisphere for another year. The large crowds the exhibits draw are a testament to its popularity among our patrons,” said Murphy.
At the east end of artists’ row, Clemson’s Art Department transformed Clemson’s downtown brand center, Experience Clemson, into an art gallery displaying photographs, paintings, ceramics, sculptures and digital art pieces by students and alumni of the Department of Art. Both Loflin and Day were contributing artists to the project.
“The mission and purpose of Experience Clemson has always been to bring the University to the heart of downtown Greenville. Artisphere gave us an opportunity to highlight our incredible Art Department and our talented student artists. It allows us an opportunity to expose the public to a part of the University they may not typically see highlighted,” said Dave Dryden, associate vice president for brand experience.
Just down the street from the art takeover at Experience Clemson, patrons who made their way to Clemson’s popular STEAM exhibit found 13 attractions ranging from a submarine simulator to a concrete 3D printer. The exhibit has been a part of Artisphere since 2014. It provides a chance for the public to learn about the intersection of science, technology, engineering, arts and math while interacting directly with Clemson faculty, students and staff. It is a collaboration of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences (CECAS) and the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities (CAAH).
Most of the activities in the STEAM exhibit are interactive. Visitors this year, for example, could code a robot to draw patterns on sheets of paper; pilot a digital submarine through a coral reef with a video game controller;simulate a deep-sea dive with a virtual reality headset or use a spinning wheel’s centrifugal force to mold clay into vessels.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of CECAS, noted that the STEAM Exhibit is a perennial big hit with Artisphere’s crowds.
“The arts play a major role in introducing young students to STEM, keeping them engaged once they are involved and fostering creativity and innovation,” said Gramopadhye.
Back on Artists’ Row, a blue ribbon was placed next to Master of Fine Arts candidate Caroline Myers’ painting “Pandemic Summer,” depicting a layered, wistful scene of a group of people on a New York City subway car as it won Best in Show for the Upstate juried exhibit.
In the middle of it all, a striking piece of permanent public artwork created by Clemson’s former Art Department chair, John Acorn, sits at the entrance to Falls Park. Titled “Ten Artispheres,” the huge sculpture of 10 thick aluminum intersecting spheres overlooked the scene as festivalgoers filled the streets with happy energy.
The Artisphere board of directors commissioned Acorn to create the piece in 2014. It’s been standing sentinel over downtown Greenville ever since, a permanent reminder of the impact Clemson artists have had on Artisphere over the years.
Valerie Zimany, chair of the Department of Art, said that the opportunities offered by Artisphere impress her every year, providing a premier venue for Clemson to showcase its collaborative and innovative approach to the arts.
“To be a contemporary artist means fluidity and fluency across a spectrum of media,” said Zimany. “More and more, our students are seeking intersections between art and science, as well as how to incorporate ideas from each into a future path. As we look toward the ‘next normal,’ our world needs creative remedies for convoluted problems and Clemson students are well-poised to meet them. Together with the strong alumni and faculty presence each year, Clemson’s presence at Artisphere demonstrates the vitality and economic viability of the arts’ impact in the great state of South Carolina!”