We only have time for a great Charleston.
I was deeply moved by Courtney Forbes’s op-ed this past Sunday, entitled: “Don’t settle, Charleston.” There was some real talk in there, about how it’s hard to break into the communities here — about how it’s tough to feel welcomed, and wanted. There were also some more cutting points about how Charleston is a city where you can do better for raising a family — thanks to poison in our water, in our landfills, and about how our education and health systems are sorely lacking.
I want to address the first issues: about how we can build a richer, warmer, more welcoming community here.
More specifically, I want to talk about the arts community in Charleston. I believe we can do better, by building more art-based community.
I moved to Charleston about one year ago. I was most definitely lonely and wasn’t sure if I would find any footing here. Though I was lucky to know a few folks already, and started a new creative writing group with Roxy Todd, and soon after worked with Melissa Ellsworth to start an improv group. Combined, the groups now have over 120 members. Over a dozen people show up every Tuesday night at 6pm in Taylor Books’ basement to practice theatre improv, and another dozen show up every other Wednesday at 6pm at Taylors’ Art Gallery to discuss their new writing. I now feel like I have friends — actually, too many friends!
But what this experience has taught me the most is that Charleston is ripe for building more arts community. That while we have an array of offerings already — from Art Walk to a host of theatre troupes — that there is so much more room to explore and dig. I see this in the local talent that is making me crack up at improv every week, and in the wonderful prose and poetry I get to witness from Tabitha Surface and a host of other local writers at our still-young creative writing group. I see it in how Kin Ship Goods can pack their store for every music and radio show they make a flier for.
I believe we can do crazy wild things here. I don’t think we have time for a good Charleston — that’s not enough to keep our people here, especially our young innovators. We only have time for a great Charleston.
Up next, I would like to explore more experimental black box theatre. The local musical-based theatre scene is great — I would like us to explore more plays that speak from the present, that dive into more of the issues we face, and welcome folks of all ages. We have a basement at Taylor Books that we can explore for this and there are similar alternative venues all over town. I also would like to see us pull together a Fringe Festival in 2016 — a basement-level underground version of FestivALL, bringing in theatre talent from across the region, and giving a platform to the local talent that I know rumbles right below the surface. I could see us showcasing innovative plays and theatre pieces in many of the semi-abandoned buildings downtown (with permission, of course!). If you’d like to plan this together, let’s connect!
I’m not foolish enough to think that building a richer artistic community will be enough to transform Charleston and bring about the real progressive changes we need, from water, to health, to education, to the environment. But I believe art is the domain of the dreamer and innovator. And the dreamer and innovator usually lean in the direction of a more just, more equitable society for all.
If we can make Charleston a home for more art collectives, classes and fringe festivals — more grassroots and experimental and inclusive work — the kind of group efforts that keep people grounded in place, then maybe all those artists will make a dent in the screwed up, yet still hopeful city Charleston represents.
Joe Solomon is the Used Book Dept. Manager at Taylor Books.