The Summerville Public Works Art Center is a vital cultural center

Create a community

The Public Works Arts Center (PWAC) of Summerville is a non-profit art gallery and studio that strives to provide residents with free access to galleries and hands-on activities while providing artists with a place to hone their skills. art.

“What we’re trying to do is kind of be the cultural cornerstone of this community,” said PWAC chief executive Jana Riley.

Jana Riley, an artist from Summerville, is the executive director of the Public Works Art Center

The PWAC is located at 135 West Richardson Ave. in what was once the old post office in the 1930s. Fifty years later, the Summerville Public Works Board (CPW) took over the space and it became the water company building until which he moves to a new location in 2018. Riley and his staff are still greeted by confused locals looking to make utility payments.

A group of Summerville citizens, led by People, Places and Quilts owner Diane Frankenberger and educator Kevin Morrissey, came together in 2019 to stop the building from becoming a retail space. Riley said the team had a vision to make it a public space that everyone could enjoy.

“It was really an underdog story,” said Riley, a Summerville native. “We had no money. There would be investors who had millions of dollars and then there would be us who had a dream and no money. Riley said CPW listened to their ideas and understood the importance of what they wanted to do.

From 2018 to 2019, the band asked the community to hear what the public wanted to see in space. Volunteers raised approximately $400,000 for renovations that began in 2019. The building was extensively renovated: desks, carpets, light fixtures and ceilings were ripped out. Gallery lighting has been added. Cramped office spaces have been converted into larger galleries and studios. The doors opened. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Born in a pandemic

“It wasn’t fun,” Riley said. “But I would say we had the good side of not having to really adjust our processes or anything. We were kind of born into the pandemic. If we had started six months earlier, it would have been more difficult. PWAC closed from March 2020 before reopening in June 2020.

Since its reopening, the PWAC has grown rapidly with around 400 visitors per month in February 2021. This number increased to around 1,600 people in February 2022. The growing popularity of the PWAC is a testament to its founding principle: free access to engaging artistic content.

“One thing that I’m really excited about, being a mom in this field, is that there’s nothing people can do for free, especially with kids, other than the library and the parks,” said Riley. Summerville’s bustling downtown strip is packed with restaurants, retail stores, and the local theater company Flowertown Players. “So, for each exhibition, we have [at PWAC], we have some sort of engagement activity. We always try to do something that a 2 year old could do or a 102 year old could enjoy.

Riley pointed out the “What does home look like to you?” exposed station. Visitors used a variety of materials, such as construction paper, crayons and blocks, to make small homemade works of art. For a previous show on identity, PWAC set up a selfie station. The 2021 maternal figure The exhibit included a wall where patrons could draw pictures of their mothers or write stories about them. Every engagement activity is free, as are general admission exhibits.

Convenient accessibility

Practical accessibility of the arts is another fundamental principle of the PWAC.

“We want to make sure everyone feels like they can engage with art,” Riley said.

When you enter the Public Works Art Center, you are greeted by smiling local volunteers. Students and recent graduates can be seen sitting at tables, laptops pulled out, working on projects. Visitors wander through the three galleries featuring exhibits that change every six to eight weeks.

An aggressive rolling schedule keeps things fresh and exciting. Local artists are featured more often than not, but Riley and her diverse board also strive to bring in artists from across the country to expose local audiences to new ideas. Atlanta-based artist Jamaal Barber presented his printmaking and multimedia exhibit at PWAC in May. Area artists Kirsten Hoving and DeeJay Wiggins have exhibits through July 30.

“We’re really intentional about making sure we’re amplifying as many voices as possible,” Riley said. The PWAC Exhibition Committee accepts submissions from anywhere through a submission portal on its website. The committee is looking for potential artists everywhere, from art museums to Instagram posts. Awareness is key. Partnerships with advocacy groups like Palmetto Luna ensure that PWAC presents a wide range of voices.

“I always say I understand I have a microphone,” Riley said. “But I just like to take a step back and pass it on to as many people as possible and let people use their voice here.” She sees the space and the building, and their mission in the community, as a huge responsibility.

The company is in the midst of an accessibility campaign to raise funds for the installation of an ADA-compliant indoor ramp and elevator to ensure everyone is welcome to take advantage of all that PWAC has to offer.

Create a space for artists

Public Works Art Center not only focuses on exhibiting art, but also on creating and cultivating it. Besides the galleries, PWAC also has 12 artist studio spaces, a pottery studio equipped with two kilns, two art classrooms for work with students, and even an art station. mobile.

The 12 studio art spaces, located in the renovated basement that originally served as a bomb shelter, are rented out to artists year-round in the style of other spaces in the city such as the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston.

A tour of the installations donated to the Summerville Artists Guild in 2019 (while the building was still under renovation) led to Susan Lowcavage becoming one of the PWAC’s resident artists.

“I thought the concept [was] a wonderful opportunity for artists, and I applied right away,” said Lowcavage. “It was accepted, and I was there [since] opening in 2020. The beautiful studio, the interaction with the other artists and artisans, and the positive energy of the volunteers and staff extended my scope of work beyond what I thought I could accomplish.

Foster the community

The entire space can be rented out for events, although that aspect has understandably been slow to get off the ground thanks to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But recently, a June 16th celebration hosted by Torreah “Cookie” Washington of Cookie Sews Quilts and Peggie Hartwell, president of the Summerville Chapter of the Women of Color Quilters Network, took place in the center: a large quilting event that featured crafts and discussions for children. Riley was moved by the event and what it meant.

“Keeping space for the community to learn and grow together is a big part of why we’re here, and it was beautiful to see that intent in action,” Riley said.

PWAC organizes events and exhibitions until the end of the year and beyond. The Spark 2022 exhibition, an annual event inviting artists to create, exhibit and sell a 3D or 2D work of art that speaks to a specific theme (this year’s theme is “Growth”), will be held from September 23 to November 5. .

“[We’re trying to] having a place where people who have been here forever and new people coming in, everybody can kind of engage with each other and they can connect with each other,” Riley said. “They can connect with themselves and they can connect with artists. But just having this place free, accessible and open to everyone, I think is really important, especially when an area is growing rapidly.

Summerville is growing every year, with a population up 26% since 2010, according to World Population Review, and is becoming a cultural hub itself. Riley is well aware of this and believes the Public Works Art Center is an essential part of this growth.

“Summerville is cooler than people think and there are cooler things happening here than people think,” Riley said. “So we really want to do our best to highlight the immense amount of talent that exists here in Summerville, in the Lowcountry, and then beyond.”

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