Editorial | Celebrating good news: Public art at CCU; Gullah culture; Adaptive Surf Project

June 21, 2014 

The Grand Strand always has any number of good things going on, from many nonprofit organizations providing all sorts of vital services to little good deeds that simply are not reported in the newspaper or on the evening television news. Some good things may be simple acts of kindness by neighbors. Others may be newsworthy at some level, but media outlets don’t know about them.

Last week on successive days, three Page One reports in The Sun News highlighted the broad sweep of good things all around us: the Adaptive Surf Project; a new phase in the Gullah culture preservation effort; a stunning public art project on the campus of Coastal Carolina University.

For several years, Arne Flaten, chair of the visual arts department, parked his vehicle near the brick enclosure around campus heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Flaten thought the brick walls could be just the place for murals and he took the idea to Cat Taylor as a public art class project. Things moved swiftly. Five students in a Maymester class — three credits for work compressed into four weeks — painted classic Piet Mondrian images, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, famed trumpeter Miles Davis and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Apollo and the Muses was to go on the last of the walls.

The murals are a sort of welcome to the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts. “We were excited at the notion of all the imagery. It announces that this is what we do here,” Flaten says. Public domain images are projected onto the walls, which have been painted. “These students have been amazing. They stay late and keep working not because I ask them to, but because they are not satisfied,” Taylor says.

The murals have received a lot of attention on campus and Flaten feels the project should encourage more public art on campus and around the Grand Strand. “I think now that anybody would say, `Wow –where else can we do this?’” Yes, which Grand Strand walls will be next?

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, including coastal S.C. islands, has its first executive director in J. Herman Blake of Johns Island. He’s a volunteer as a member of the commission set up to oversee the corridor, established in 2006. Bruce Smith of The Associated Press reports that Blake is a “seventh-generation descendant of a woman enslaved on a Savannah River plantation.’’

The commission “envisions educating people about the culture, documenting and preserving significant sites and developing economic opportunities so the culture survives.’’ Commission chairwoman Althea Sumpter of Atlanta told Smith the search was temporarily suspended for a permanent executive director. The right person hasn’t been found among 60 applicants and numerous interviews.

The corridor, one of about 50 U.S. heritage areas, runs from southeastern North Carolina into northeastern Florida. The culture, Gullah in the Carolinas, is said to be threatened by development.

Adaptive Surf Project organizers are raising money for 10 adaptable surfboards to get injured surfers back in the lineup. The project grew out of an event in 2013 for quadriplegics sponsored by Ocean Cure and Coastal Carolina Adaptive Sports and Recreation. Brandon Bellegarde and Luke Sharp were volunteers for the 2013 event and decided they needed “… to figure out how to get people in the water more often. We can’t just wait” for a once-a-year event.

The special board are made in consultation with medical professionals and board shapers. Each board costs about $1,000, and may be as different as individual surfers. “We’re giving them away. It’s all free. It’s all about getting people back in the lineup and surfing,’’ Bellegarde says. They set up a nonprofit foundation.

Ronnie Tario, a 25-year-old who has an incomplete spinal cord injury, says this about surfing: “It’s so freeing. I get up on the board and I’m free again. ... It’s a solitary, empowering, freeing thing.’’

All of these projects are empowering in their own ways, and they also should serve to inspire us to push forward in pursuing the passions that can make things better for our communities and our neighbors.

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