Artisphere showcases fine arts and bolsters the South Carolina economy.
Founded in 2003, Artisphere is more than a weekend jam-packed with vibrant programming and creative talent. It’s a nationally recognized fine arts festival that enhances the quality of life and economic vitality in South Carolina—and is much deserving of its first Leadership in Arts Award. “I mean, wow—what an honor,” laughs Kerry Murphy, president and CEO of Artisphere. “There are so many amazing arts organizations in Greenville, and this is humbling.”
An inspiring leader herself, Murphy is quick to credit others for the event’s enduring impact. “We have incredible volunteers who do everything from artist hospitality to booth sitting, and I love hearing their stories [from the weekend] every year. They’re just there temporarily, but they take it seriously—and treat these artists like their family.”
“No other festival in the country treats its artists as well as Artisphere does,” reflects Ed Zeigler, principal of Craig Gaulden Davis Inc., which sponsors the Leadership in Arts Award. “It’s why they receive 1,000 applications every year, and everyone wants to come back. The way they select artists is very egalitarian, too, with a new blind jury every year . . . . I love that you’ll see people from across the country and from every walk of life strolling around with something that they’ve purchased—from a $10,000 painting to a $100 print.”
When asked about her vision for the next ten years, Murphy embraces new and diverse programming. “We’re always trying to be relevant and expose Greenville to things they don’t see regularly . . . . We want to bring cutting-edge programming here as a thought leader in the festival space. We also try to continue to be inclusive and collaborate with many of the smaller organizations here, including the performing arts,” she adds, mentioning the Greenville Light Opera Works and the Palmetto Statesman Barbershop Quartets.
“I’d give kudos to the visionaries on our board and the community that supports us,” Murphy says. “If we didn’t have sponsors, we wouldn’t be free or happen at all. Artisphere is a testament to the value that Greenville places on quality of life. We continue to be successful year after year because of [this city’s] commitment to the arts and how they enrich us all.”
“Part of our mission is to contribute to Greenville’s public art collection,” says Murphy.
She shares a story about one permanent piece: Blessing Hancock’s Spindle, a 2019 metal sculpture in the Village of West Greenville. “When the work was installed, the artist was present for an artist talk, and we invited children from schools in the surrounding area [to attend] . . .
A little girl asked, ‘You really make art for a living?’, and the adults giggled—but you could see the moment the lightbulb went off in her mind, that this could be a career.”
- 828: The number of artist applications the team received last year, out of which only 135 were chosen to exhibit in a competitive juried panel process.
- Mayor Knox White personally visits every artist during the festival, which “they love, and think is super cool,” says Murphy.
- They Give Back $25K in grants to local nonprofit groups for volunteering, as well as another $47K+ to local performers and artists in the way of stipends and awards.
- 4: The number of full-time people on Artisphere’s staff—a team that proves that even an extraordinary event like this can be executed by just a few passionate individuals.
- $11.9 million: The economic impact that the 2022 festival had on Greenville County, as estimated by a formula developed by the Clemson University Regional Economic Analysis Laboratory (CU-REAL).
- England, UK: The farthest from home an Artisphere artist traveled, with other noteworthy origins being Canada and Mexico.