Boasting 30 performance venues (21 indoor and 9 outdoor); 43 galleries or exhibit spaces; 38 murals and other public art displays; 5 museums, 64 art studios, and a Music Trail that honors celebrated local musicians across all genres, Spartanburg juggles a lively calendar of art exhibitions, concerts, stage performances, and literary happenings. “Spartanburg offers a surprisingly vibrant arts scene, home to visual and performing arts you’d expect to find in a bigger city,” says Naomi Sargent, VP of strategic communications for OneSpartanburg, Inc. ” Downtown Spartanburg was designated as the Upstate’s first Cultural District, home to the Spartanburg Art Museum, the Upstate’s only contemporary art museum; Spartanburg Ballet; The Johnson Collection, a renowned representation of the American South; and Hub City Bookshop & Press, the South’s premier independent literary press.
Art greets your eye almost everywhere you look in downtown Spartanburg, starting outside with a vivid display of murals and public art. You’ll even find art collections adorning the walls in hotels, like the 40 pieces on permanent display throughout the first floor and mezzanine of the AC Hotel in the city center. These works, created by some of the internationally acclaimed artists (i.e. Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell, Elaine de Kooning) associated with Black Mountain College (1933-1957) in North Carolina, were curated by The Johnson Collection. The latter, a distinguished gallery on Main Street, depicts the cultural evolution of the American South through works from the late eighteenth century to the present.
A regional contemporary art museum, the Spartanburg Art Museum holds a permanent collection of 1,100 items that juxtapose historical artifacts with works by living contemporary artists. Black Anatomy, the current exhibit (through June), brings a collection of sculptures, installations, paintings, and drawings illustrating the Black experience in modern culture.
You can visit SAM, The Johnson Collection, and a handful of other downtown galleries after hours during the Thursday Art Walk (third Thursday of each month, 5-8pm)
Several venues and performing arts groups share the limelight in Spartanburg. Opened in 2007 in a new three-building facility downtown, the Chapman Cultural Center nurtures the arts in one complex, embracing performing spaces for Ballet Spartanburg, the city’s resident professional dance company, The Spartanburg Little Theatre, and the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra. It also houses the Spartanburg Art Museum, the Spartanburg Regional History Museum, the Spartanburg Science Center, and the Artists’ Guild of Spartanburg.
The 65-member Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra divides its performances between the Chapman’s 476-seat theater and the 1,489-seat Twichell Auditorium in the Zimmerli Performance Center at Converse College. The Symphony’s season (September through April) encompasses the Zimmerli Series of full symphony concerts, the Espresso Series of chamber music, and the Bluegrass Series.
Formed in 1946, the Spartanburg Little Theatre performed at the Camp Croft Playhouse (a former movie theater) before moving into the Chapman Cultural Center in 2007. Today the award-winning theater company stages musicals such as Sister Act (May 6-15) and We Will Rock You (July 15-24), an ode to the music of Queen.
Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium was christened the “showplace of the South” when it opened its doors adjacent to Wofford College in 1951. Since then, the 3,244-seat venue has showcased national talent, Broadway musicals, comedy acts, sporting events, and trade shows.
The year was 1995. The place, a coffee shop in downtown Spartanburg, where Betsy Teeter and two other local writers hatched the notion of the Hub City Writer’s Project. Their goal? To establish a literary identity for their little Southern city and thereby preserve its sense of place.
The project started with Hub City Press, which publishes books by Southern authors, and mushroomed into a nonprofit organization that champions Southern writers at all levels and offers more than 100 events annually, including workshops, author talks, readings, summer writing camps for kids, and even a local writers’ conference.
In 2010, the group renovated the ground floor of the 1928 Masonic Temple on West Main Street downtown and opened Hub City Bookshop. This independent bookstore—named one of the “South’s Best Bookstores” by Southern Living in 2018—funnels its proceeds into creative writing education, community outreach, and publishing efforts. “The Hub City Writers Project, through our indie bookshop, diverse literary programming and outreach, and above all, our award-winning press, has established Spartanburg as a literary hub (pun intended) in the Southeast,” says its executive director Anne Waters.