Push to brand Conway as an 'arts city' causes controversy - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Push to brand Conway as an 'arts city' causes controversy

Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway's Conway Public Piano Project is out for display in the city. (Source: WMBF News) Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway's Conway Public Piano Project is out for display in the city. (Source: WMBF News)
May 2015 CCU public project agenda May 2015 CCU public project agenda
Groups present at May 2015 CCU public project meeting Groups present at May 2015 CCU public project meeting

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The South Carolina Arts Commission has been invited to make Conway an official arts destination.  But there seems to be some confusion about who's in charge of developing the downtown with arts and culture.

The city of Conway officially recognizes the Chamber and Conway Downtown Alive as official city entities, and provides funding for their missions. Conway Downtown Alive says their mission is to "preserve and promote the history of Conway."  However, president of Conway Cultural Development Corporation, Dennis Stevens, says their mission is overlapping with that of his group's and the Create! Conway Group.   Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway are focused on connecting local artists with the community to benefit and boost the economy.  This is done in ways of festivals, concerts and art projects.  Recent examples of this are the community piano project and the Indie Market festival.  Although the two groups state different missions, the events they plan for Conway are similar. 

"When arts and culture are being used for the promotion of the downtown…we're the experts," Stevens said.

Stevens thinks the city hasn't recognized that's creating concern that while these different groups have different missions, they're overlapping on who connects the city to the arts. He said the city has refused to answer the question of whose job it is to lead Conway in arts and culture development.  This job, he says, is the purpose of Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway.  The better marketing and branding clarity for Conway, Stevens says, the better the groups can serve the community.

"That is their [Conway's] responsibility because what they're doing is providing accommodations tax money to these organizations to market Conway.  So...as we are here doing what it is that we do, as arts and culture professionals, that work towards activities that pertain to economic development, we're asking the questions: 'What is our role in this?' and 'Why are we not being included in conversation?' that are essentially...the conversations that we need to be included in is when arts and culture are being used for the promotion of the downtown, we are the experts.  It is our organizational mission as two non-profits (Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway) to lead arts and culture activities as they pertain to economic development," Stevens stated.

Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway say they've been excluded from a project they proposed.  In May of last year, Stevens said he brought together all of the groups: City of Conway, Conway Downtown Alive, Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway to meet with Coastal Carolina University's visual arts department for a project proposal.  The project idea was to partner with CCU to place fiberglass animals around downtown Conway. On Monday night, the project was brought up at a Conway Council workshop, to the surprise of Stevens and his affiliates. 

"Conway Cultural Development was excluded from those conversations and what we realized on Monday night was there was a public art project in motion that was led by a council member that had everything to do with that conversation and many prior to that, and very much was in line with the public art project we were about to present to city of Conway we’ve been working on for several years,” he said.

The situation has furthered the beliefs of Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway that the city needs to clarify whose role it is to lead arts and culture in Conway.  Stevens and his affiliates believe their initiatives in Conway have proven they are there for the job, especially since no other city-supported entity states its mission in support of local arts and culture.

Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway run off of grants, accommodations tax revenue and donations.  

We reached out to several city council members for their response, but are still waiting to hear back.

Conway Cultural Development Corporation and Create! Conway's Conway Public Piano Project is out for display in the city.  The groups bought the first piano from Horry County schools and refurbished it into a colorful, playable instrument displayed on the downtown streets of Conway.  Stevens says they're about to buy the second piano to be part of the project.  The first was bought for less than $100.

In the next week or two, look out for the refurbished Nye's Pharmacy sign to be up.  The pharmacy is located on 10th Avenue in Conway.

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