Two blocks from the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon on East Bay Street sits Charleston Artist Guild Gallery. Founded in 1953, it is the oldest art guild in Charleston. Its mission is to promote and provide services of art to every corner of the community, including children, the elderly, the disadvantaged and everyone in between.
With work by over 70 artists on display at the gallery, the walls are awash in art. All matter of subjects and styles are represented in the space. Guild artists paint primarily in oils and acrylics, but other artists create using photography, watercolor, graphite, and less common forms like fiber art and Oshibana or pressed flower art.
Marsh scenes, street scenes and Charleston landscapes are common subjects, but the art rotates and changes three times a year to showcase different artists’ work. As a result, the gallery feels fresh with each visit. And there is art for everyone’s preferences.
“The Guild has supported artists and the community from day one,” Steve Jacobs, business manager and Guild member, says.
That mission comes through in the multiple outreach programs the Guild supports. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Guild currently funds four primary outreach programs almost entirely through volunteer efforts, membership dues and art sale proceeds.
The Art of Alzheimer’s program brings art to elders affected by the disease, while the Extraordinary Art Exhibit program supports special education students and their teachers in the tri-county area. The other two programs are the Pattison’s Academy program, which offers summer art programs at the academy for children with severe disabilities, and the High School Scholarship Award Exhibition, which awards scholarship money for college to high school seniors throughout the tri-county area.
“Different people head up each program,” Rosie Phillips, president of the Guild, says. “Some of our artists work on all of the programs; some of them work on just one. Whatever the artist’s passion is, that’s what they follow.”
Membership in the Guild isn’t limited to artists, however. With about 700 members, including 300 exhibiting members and about 70 of those exhibited in the gallery, the Guild’s only prerequisite is to be “an art lover and art supporter,” Phillips says.
“We have members as far away as Canada, England and Germany,” Jacobs adds.
For artists new to the Charleston area, membership is not only a way to network within the arts community, but a way for members to continue their arts education within an extremely supportive system. Workshops, member critiques and monthly meetings that bring in guest speakers and artist demonstrations encourage Guild members to keep working, to keep creating.
Phillips says that when she moved to Charleston one of the first things she did was join the Guild. When Jacobs joined, his first Guild meeting landed him commissions that paid for his membership for several years.
“The ability to meet people, rub shoulders, is the strength of the Guild meetings,” he says.
The Guild has grown over time. Jacobs credits the increased presence to the new location on East Bay. “When we moved in 2009, the sales increased 150 percent. And the year after that they increased another 25 percent. Just because of location,” he says.
With increased foot traffic, sales and membership the Guild is able to fulfill its mission and bring arts where they are needed most.
There is one intangible benefit to the Guild that isn’t advertised: camaraderie. “Although I referred to the Guild as a community,” Phillips says, “we call it a family.”
“We don’t fight as much as a family, though,” Jacobs adds.
Along with the benefits and the outreach programs, fellowship and a true sense of family are the Guild’s biggest assets.
Scott D. Elingburg is a Charleston-based freelance writer.