Education mission takes center stage at Charleston’s premier venue
You’re probably aware that there is a new Charleston Gaillard Center in downtown Charleston, the culmination of a $142-million rebuild that positions the facility as a world-class performing arts center in the tradition of Europe’s great performance halls.
You might even have seen the gorgeous approach; the stately neo-classical entrance with Doric columns capped by ornate capitals, or stepped inside to visit the noble ballroom and conference rooms. Perhaps your ears have tasted the state-of-the-art acoustics in the Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall, where a single pianist can be heard unamplified from the back row.
If just for that, and the A-list performances the venue brings to town – bluesman Buddy Guy, country songbird Loretta Lynn, Charlotte Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty, Broadway shows “Pippin” and “Chicago,” the violin virtuosity of Josh Bell, opera’s Renee Fleming and so much more – The Gaillard Center would be a treasured community asset. But that just scratches the surface.
When philanthropist Martha Rivers Ingram offered the gift that prompted the renovation of the The Gaillard Center, she specified that it be more than a first-class arts center; she wanted a community arts center, accessible to everyone. Key to that philosophy is the educational component of the The Gaillard Center’s mission: “To provide the Lowcountry with a world-class performance hall, elegant venue space, and vibrant educational opportunities inspiring our dynamic community through the power of the performing arts.”
In its first year, The Gaillard Center welcomed 18,000 school children to witness performances that served as the culmination of in-school curricula. High school students reading Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in class were brought to The Gaillard Center to see the play performed live. Middle school math and science classes enjoyed “Doktor Kaboom,” an interactive science comedy that tracked what students were learning. The venue is on pace for 25,000 school children visits this year.
Research demonstrates that arts education improves educational outcomes across the board. A National Education Association study found that students from low socioeconomic families with art-rich experiences in high school were 43 percent more likely to complete high school calculus than their counterparts who weren’t exposed to art education.
In order to make The Gaillard Center and the arts broadly accessible to residents of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, children from Title One schools – those in high poverty areas – are welcomed for free. The Gaillard Center even provides bus transportation. For children at other schools, the performances are just $5, including the bus. The Gaillard Center’s Stephanie Shipe notes that those costs are offset by ticket sales, so every time you purchase a ticket to a concert, theater, dance or other visual arts at the venue, you are supporting arts education for Lowcountry children.
The Gaillard Center also serves as a gathering place. Its ballroom, which can accommodate 1,000 people standing, and conference rooms, which seat 60 each, are available for rent. That makes it large enough to hold relatively large conferences and events in a building that will make attendees’ jaws drop.
“It’s not just a beautiful space,” Shipe said. “It’s a beautiful space that represents Charleston.”