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Following your muse in the Lowcountry

The mythological Greek goddesses continue to work their magic on the shores of Hilton Head Island.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Artwork by Local Artists

Anyone who carries that artistic spark in their heart (that is to say, everyone) has had that moment of pure inspiration – that indescribable instant where the fog parts, the sun shines and the path ahead becomes vividly clear.

The ancient Greeks, as is their wont, ascribed such moments of serendipity to nine goddesses they called muses. Beingas this was ancient Greece, however, their nine goddesses followed a very different set of rules when it came to what dictates art.

Five of them, for example, were dedicated to very specific types of poetry, from epic to sacred. None of them were dedicated to the visual arts.

Art has evolved since the days of chiton and sandals, and so too must our muses. As you chase your own muse in the Lowcountry, may we suggest a new set of muses for our dynamic artistic community.



Muse of conquering stage fright

With all respect to Thalia and Melpomene, the Greek muses of comedy and tragedy respectively, there is so much to our theater scene it would make Sophocles’ head spin. Our robust community of performers and theaters calls for a muse who speaks to the aspiring thespian or musician who craves their moment in the spotlight.

Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry (aka music), would definitely feel at home at the Hilton Head Island Symphony Orchestra. Its many talented musicians hail from all over the southeast, but you’ll find among their ranks several homegrown players. The diversity of musical genius, under the direction of Maestro John Morris Russell, infuses our local orchestra with a sound and presence that rivals any big-city orchestra.

And the dramatic muses are everywhere in the Lowcountry, wherever a theater is giving locals that chance to shine. Places like Main Street Youth Theatre, which is currently celebrating 20 years. Its productions not only give younger players a chance to chase their muse, it has also been a welcome home to more seasoned players looking to trod the boards.

In this, MSYT is hardly alone. On the mainland, Bluffton’s May River Theatre has provided a home to community actors for 50 years, giving them a chance to star in a year-round schedule of musicals and plays. On Hilton Head Island, the Lean Ensemble has drawn from a deep well of local talent to create a stable of professional-caliber performers.

But the “big stage” on Hilton Head Island has to be the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. Its regular schedule of Broadway-quality shows sees world-class performers coming to our area to share the stage with the occasional local looking to hone their craft.




Muse of capturing the Lowcountry in paint

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – the Lowcountry is paradise for a painter. The vivid hues of our sunsets, the tranquility of our marshes and beaches, all beg to be captured in color and paint.

It’s such a singular source of inspiration, it seems fitting that we must create an entirely new muse just for that moment when the sunlight sparkling off salt water sets our artistic spirit soaring. Luckily, the prolificity of our local artistic muse means there are plenty of ways to have your work seen.

One of the most respected area art collectives is the Society of Bluffton Artists, otherwise known as SoBA. Before Bluffton was appearing on national lists of great small towns and before new developments lent a trendy edge to its Southern charms, this was a quirky town of artists and creators. These unorthodox painters and sculptors found their muse in one another, and founded SoBA to help others find theirs. Today the gallery hosts a revolving lineup of members’ works and offers classes year round.

That’s not to say Hilton Head Island doesn’t have a storied history of nurturing local artists. In fact, Red Piano Art Gallery is the oldest professional gallery of fine art in the state, having been founded in 1969 as the paint was drying on the Harbour Town Lighthouse. Established to show works from legendary artists who had settled in the area, from Joe Bowler to Ray Ellis, it eventually became the meeting place for the island’s Round Table. This collective of area artists was able to draw in esteemed guest artists like Reuben Tam and Ben Stahl, and Red Piano continues to host some of the world’s most intriguing artists.

Over time, Red Piano was joined by a host of world-class galleries, from the international flair of J. Costello gallery on to the abstract inspiration at Muse Gallery, both on Hilton Head Island.

Those looking to hone their own skills can follow their muse to the Art League of Hilton Head. Its astonishing array of works shines a spotlight on local artists, giving our area’s established and up-and-coming alike a place to be seen. Regular classes let you pursue your art, whatever form it takes, and maybe one day see your work on display at the gallery.



OK, this one we stole from the Greeks

While the nine muses of ancient Greece may have represented some archaic forms of art, and some stretched the definition of “art” in odd directions (Urania, for example, was the muse of astronomy), there’s no denying the timeless power of the dance.

Terpsichore as the muse of dance is alive and well in the Lowcountry, as evidenced by the sudden proliferation of dance schools.

Hilton Head Dance School was founded more than 30 years ago and offers classes for dancers as young as 3 years old. Among its instructors are several who either danced in or were certified by the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, and many of the school’s students have gone on to dance in some of the finest professional dance companies in the world.

Off-island, the Bluffton area has seen several dance schools open in recent years. Alliance Dance Academy offers a full schedule of classes from ballet to hip hop for students as young as 2 ½ to adults. Owner Rochelle Clarkson has gathered some of the finest instructors from her career in dance to create a community dance studio introducing a new generation to the art form.

Founded in 2003 by Dawn Rosa Miller, Bluffton School of Dance combines a curriculum of classes from ballet to ballroom with a diverse staff of many talents and achievements. In addition to classes for students age 2 and up, the audition-only Bluffton School of Dance Company offers the more disciplined student a chance to perform in competition and theater companies.