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ArtFields, South Carolina’s biggest art competition, is on hold due to COVID-19

On March 17, the Lake City arts festival/competition ArtFields announced it was postponing the festival. The event, which was scheduled to go from April 24 to May 2, would have featured nearly 400 different works of art by artists from around the Southeast, displayed in various venues around the town.

Between visitor selections and judges’ picks, the artists involved had chances to win nearly $150,000 in cash prizes.

ArtFields, which began in 2013, typically draws about 20,000 people, per organizer estimates, and it injects millions of dollars into the local economy. So needless to say, the decision to postpone the festival due to the COVID-19 outbreak wasn’t an easy one.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” says Jamison Kerr, ArtFields’ director. “We work for months leading up to this, and we truly had one of the best bodies of artwork we have seen, so it was hard not to be disappointed. I never thought I would see an April in Lake City without artwork delivery, new murals, and all the excitement of the nine days. It is definitely weird and sad for all of us.”

Kerr says that she and her staff are well aware of the impact the postponement will have on Lake City, a small town of about 7,000 people less than two hours from Columbia and Charleston, but that the health of everyone involved had to be their priority.

“It is definitely going to have an economic impact on Lake City and participating businesses,” she tells Free Times. “ArtFields really helps the community and stimulates local business revenue. Our town comes alive in April and the people here love to meet artists and celebrate their work, so it will be greatly missed.”

The impact of the postponement obviously extends to the participating artists. And the presenting ArtFields Collective is trying to offer alternatives.

“We also recognize what a difference this exhibition and competition makes to an artist’s career and what valuable connections, as well as prize money, they get from being a part of ArtFields,” Kerr says. “So we are trying to foster relationship-building by adding all artwork to our website’s online gallery and utilizing digital means to connect artists. We often hear that ArtFields allows for artists who have never met each other to collaborate and help each other out and we believe that this can still take place online.”

Interestingly enough, the Columbia artists we spoke with barely mentioned the potential loss of income when talking about ArtFields being postponed. They seem more disappointed about missing the experience of the festival itself.

“ArtFields feels like Christmas as an artist,” relates painter Lauren Chapman. “Basically not only are you getting to show your work, but you get to network with artists from all around the Southeast. When you get into something like ArtFields, it feels great not to just have the potential to sell it but to be able to network and create more of a community.”

Olga Yukhno, the director of the McMaster Gallery at the University of South Carolina, is also an artist who works with three-dimensional ceramic and mixed-media wall pieces. She says that the available space at ArtFields allowed her to think about creating bigger works than she would normally attempt.

“This would have been my fourth time participating,” Yukhno offers, “and it’s really special to me. A lot of times we don’t have the opportunity to make something big, and ArtFields is a unique platform that allows you to create whatever you want.

“When I think about ArtFields, I think about it as an experimental platform to do something I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I usually think about it a year in advance, and then I work for months and months on the piece I want to submit. It’s a very exciting process.”

At the same time, the Columbia artists Free Times spoke appreciate how quickly the ArtFields staff decided to postpone.

“On the one hand, of course I’m sad and disappointed,” Yukhno says, “but on the other hand, I appreciate them doing it. Because they’re thinking about what’s best for the artists and the patrons and the community. I think it was a hard choice, and I’m grateful for them taking that responsibility and making that call.”

“Postponing the exhibition was the right thing to do,” posits ceramic artist Alexander Thierry. “A lot of time and planning goes into making work and being a part of ArtFields, and for me, the postponement happened early enough that reservations could be cancelled and shipping had not started.”

The artists hope when ArtFields does eventually return, both participants and attendees will appreciate it all the more because of its absence.

“I think it will be more meaningful,” Yukhno says. “People will appreciate it more, and artists might get an extra boost to make more art, because a lot of us suddenly have a lot more time to work on whatever project we have going on. I hope we will come back with even more energy.”

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