Clemson University’s latest addition to Greenville started with a question: how can the university design a place that merges the interests of students, faculty, and alumni with those of emerging and acclaimed artists, and contribute to the fabric of the surrounding community? The answer was the Clemson University Center for Visual Arts–Greenville (CVA-G), an art gallery/student laboratory/project space located in the Village, where students, faculty, and alumni participate with art historians, artists, critics, and curators. The facility was made possible by a gift from Richard and Gwen Heusel.
The CVA-G is a satellite of the CVA at Clemson University, which serves as the umbrella for all visual art activities. While plans for a future campus facility are underway, a facility like the CVA-G opens a world of new possibilities for students. “Art students typically exhibit on campus,” explains Greg Shelnutt, art department chair at Clemson. “Here, they are participating in a thriving urban environment with community members and professional artists, which allows them to push their art beyond the university setting.”
For the community, the CVA-G is one important piece of the whole. Explains Shelnutt, “A place like this can be part of a larger dialogue. It can be an incubator of ideas as well as an expression of a community’s identity.”
The CVA-G collaborates with local schools such as Legacy Charter (for which they received a $5,000 SC
Arts Commission grant) and Upstate businesses and organizations to create an immersive creative environment for the community. The center also hosts the monthly West Greenville Business Association meetings and participates in First Friday. Additionally, they’re partnering with other Upstate arts organizations in an effort to better shape a community-wide arts initiative.
“I’m currently working with Fleming Markel to curate an exhibit ‘It Takes a Village,’” says Gene Ellenberg, CVA-G program coordinator and artist.“We’ve challenged neighborhood artists to create new works that inform a context of being here in the Village.” The pair will exhibit the works in the summer at Riverworks Gallery at Arts Crossing in downtown Greenville.
Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation of Greenville, an organization that invested $100,000 into the CVA-G, thinks Clemson’s presence in the Village to be an important part of the neighborhood’s revitalization. “There’s an important sense of momentum here in the Village, and Clemson brings a grasp on a comprehensive, long-term vision. We feel like the CVA-G is poised to impact our local economy and the community as a whole.”
Adds Ellenberg, “The traditional thinking is that you have to go elsewhere to experience a contemporary arts culture: day trips to see indie films in Atlanta or works at the High Museum. Greenville has certainly embraced the arts, but more recently I’ve noticed more critical and progressive movements. The works produced in our own community, brought together within the right context, and those international artists exhibiting locally, are, indeed, relevant and dynamic. The CVA-G is helping to bring that experience here, and that’s very exciting.”