Space is vital in a community. Not only in providing a physical gathering point for people, but also in creating a connection point for ideas and inspiration. Free Times writers Haley Kellner and Fiona Schreier spoke with a handful of Columbia natives making that space. Check:
Michaela Pilar Brown: Mike Brown Contemporary
Michaela Pilar Brown has been a cornerstone of Colombia’s art scene for years as a visual artist, a position that was further strengthened when she became the owner of the former IF ART Gallery, now Mike Brown Contemporary Gallery – a gallery that it has already expanded into adjacent spaces on Lincoln Street. Her position as a gallerist has only increased her ability and dedication to uplift Colombian artists.
With the expanded gallery space, it has launched a residency program for emerging artists, which welcomed its first artist last year. The six-week program is a way to honor the late Wim Roefs, owner of the IF ART gallery, who offered the space to Brown to use as a studio while he traveled.
While the gallery and residency program are just a few of the things on her mind, Brown is also thinking about changes in the art world on a larger scale.
“I run a monthly gallery talk. It happens every second Saturday of the month and it’s been incredibly diverse,” Brown said. “I think these kinds of conversations are happening all over town. People who want to talk about what a changing world looks like, what art looks like in that changing world.”
She hopes these discussions will lead to more artists taking responsibility for creating a sustainable life in Colombia.
“Sometimes there are people in positions of power who make decisions about art because they assume it’s for everyone and everyone can do it. But in art, like anything else, there is craftsmanship,” said Brown.
“There are people who have worked on it for a long time, who understand how it works, who understand how it moves … who can help make some of these decisions. And further the success of this city as a city of art.”
Quentin Wedderburn: Eastmont Theater Company
Quentin Wedderburn is a PhD student in psychology by day, but by night, he and his roommate Johnathan Phillips run a theater company in their backyard.
Last year, Wedderburn served as producer/set builder/whatever you can think of for the newly formed Eastmont Theater Company. Inspired by the limitations Wedderburn faced in trying to integrate the art he loved into his life, the company’s ethos is simple: theater should be accessible to everyone, even those with little experience or busy schedules.
“The idea of making it into a whole theater company was kind of there, but really what we wanted to do was put on a play,” Wedderburn said. “And once we had an idea that we both fell in love with and really wanted to bring it to life, it was off to the races.”
After producing their first show, End of the Line, Wedderburn hopes to continue the company and use it as a space to connect more artists with each other.
Eastmont plans to continue producing plays, but Wedderburn also released plans to turn their backyard theater space into a venue for musicians.
For Wedderburn, the project is about bringing people together and unlocking talent and art that might otherwise be overlooked.
“We don’t want to limit ourselves,” he said, “and we want to slowly but surely become that space where people can come and connect and build community.”
David Stringer: SceneSC
In 2008, David Stringer left Five Point’s Groucho’s to start a local music blog. During lunch, he would read a Columbia newspaper that featured local musician Bentz Kirby on the cover.
“He had a quote in there that said everyone should do their part in supporting the local music scene,” Stringer said. With no band but experience in journalism, Stringer decided to answer the call.
SceneSC has now spent 16 years supporting the South Carolina music scene with Stringer at the helm. More than a music blog, it has become a resource center for bands and fans to learn about and connect with local music.
“The more informed people are in the country, the healthier the music scene will be,” Stringer said. It’s like an ecosystem. Musicians need someone to listen. Fans need somewhere to find information. Everyone needs a space to connect. With each effort, Stringer helps foster a scene that he himself can contribute to and experience.
Today on the SceneSC website you’ll find interviews, show reviews and more. There is a list of media contacts for musicians and a massive directory of about 300 bands. Stringer recently brought back the SceneSC Sampler for a 12th iteration, an annual compilation album featuring musicians across the state.
This year, Stringer is focusing on his recently debuted Indigo Sounds newsletter and podcast. If musicians’ biggest challenge is getting people to pay attention, Stringer wants to make learning about local music as simple as possible.
“Musicians work so hard,” he said. “When I see people putting out music, putting out very personal music, I really admire it. I want to share it.”
Those looking to join Stringer in creating a thriving SC music scene for all can sign up for the Indigo Sounds newsletter and learn more at SceneSC.com
Nell Fuller, Julie Tuttle, Mara Zepeda: Made With Cola Love
Made With Cola Love is helping entrepreneurs find creative approaches to traditional business problems. Co-founded by Nell Fuller, Julie Tuttle and Mara Zepeda, the effort will support local businesses in Columbia by hosting pop-up shops in vacant spaces.
Inspired by San Francisco’s Vacant to Vibrant, the project leverages the resources Columbia already has to invest in the city: local talent and empty storefronts.
“We have a lot of vacant retail space in different pockets around town,” said Tuttle, who has a background in real estate development. “We’re looking at this project as a way to help building owners along with entrepreneurs think differently about how to occupy those spaces.”
Like Tuttle, each partner contributes unique expertise to the project. Fuller founded the now-shuttered femme x, a workspace celebrating creatives. Zepeda, a Darla Moore School of Entrepreneurial Business in Residence, provides experience in concepts such as collaborative businesses and placemaking.
“Placemaking is the idea that where we live matters … all the infrastructure and services and community spirit and everything that goes into creating a place we want to live,” Fuller said. “It’s a reminder that just living somewhere, investing in the community, is creative. And running a business should be, too. There are creative models of access to capital or company structure, creative ways to engage consumers.”
She added that the pop-ups are meant to be splashy, immersive efforts aimed at drawing people in — driving connection through engagement initiatives.
For entrepreneurs in the program, Made With Cola Love will also offer mentorship in marketing, financing, HR and more. Ultimately, the project isn’t about bringing businesses into a brick-and-mortar store. It’s about helping them thrive and celebrating Colombia’s great homegrown talent in the process.
Expect to see Made With Cola Love pop-ups running from April to October. To learn more, visit MadeWithColaLove.org.