Revival-Design Camp participants work collaboratively on prototype development. (Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Arts Commission.)

Picture a gathering of forty craftspeople, designers, environmentalists, architects, engineers and recyclers -- all talking trash. That's what happens at Revival-Design Camp in Rock Hill, South Carolina, an annual event that focuses on strategies to reduce the waste stream and increase environmental consciousness. Participants use recycled materials to create prototypes ultimately intended for the high-end home furnishings market.

Now entering its third year, Revival-Design Camp is one of the cutting-edge approaches to economic development that has been nurtured by the South Carolina Arts Commission's Cultural Visions Council. The primary focus of the council, which is directed by representatives of more than 30 state government agencies and other statewide organizations, is the training and funding of local communities interested in using their cultural resources to redefine and restore their towns. Begun with a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1991, the council has had its success rewarded with funding from the NEA and the South Carolina legislature.

"I have become progressively more convinced of the power the arts have in building community, establishing identity and purpose, and motivating residents to develop a vision for change," says Ben Boozer, founding director of the South Carolina Downtown Development Association. "The arts led the charge in the revitalization of Rock Hill and it is fitting that the arts council there, once again, is taking a leadership role in the state -- and the nation -- through the ongoing collaborative presentation of Revival."

Revival-Design Camp is coordinated by the Rock Hill Arts Council in partnership with Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation, Winthrop University and the Cultural Visions Council. The arts council is considered a model in developing partnerships, most notably with the City of Rock Hill. "The Revival project is an excellent example of this local arts council's innovative merging of arts, education and economic planning," says Suzette M. Surkamer, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission.

Designing Practical Solutions

Nationally recognized craft designers are invited to the camp to develop home furnishing prototypes using primarily recycled and salvaged materials in a collaborative studio environment. Explains co-creator Ellen Kochansky, a fiber artist and quilter, "My professional community is the craft world, a national network with some common characteristics -- generosity, practicality and a great deal to teach. We dream of a situation, especially in the company of our peers, which would allow us to tackle an area that relates to, but is different from, our usual routine. Revival offered this chance, and provided a bonus: the opportunity to mentor students while exploring the design process."

Design camp usually opens with a seminar on the weekend before the workshop. It consists of panels and charettes that address sustainable design, environmental/livability issues correlated to design and materials usage. The camp itself merges the talents of professional craft artists, serving as mentors, with experts in the areas of environmental salvage, recycling and sustainable design.

Traffic sign tiles/switchplates by Boris Bally, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Arts Commission.)

Workshop materials are obtained from in- and out-of-state manufacturers and salvage yards. Chemists, product designers, engineers, government recycling agencies and resource banks consult and work with the designers to assess material viability.

Among the first fruits of this project was an exhibition of prototypes created the first year and refined in home studios. Mounted at Winthrop University during the 1999 Design Camp, this collection was soon expanded by over sixty new prototypes created during the camp. The exhibition is expected to tour, pending funding, over the next two years.

The exhibition was the first step toward building a product list that could be marketed and sold from offices in South Carolina. For 2000, a staff person has been hired; Revival has been invited to create an online gallery/sales office for a website; and new designers and products are being solicited for the upcoming camp in July.

The investment by the Cultural Visions Council has spawned a fledgling enterprise that has had a ripple effect throughout the state. The South Carolina artists who have participated in Design Camp are now working with other designers throughout the country. The camp is a model for wedding the skills and expertise of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, resulting in several artists selling their prototypes, as multiples, to attending retail consultants. Design Camp has also raised the visibility of design's application to practical concerns through articles in trade magazines and a half-hour program produced by South Carolina Educational Television.

The essence of Revival's success is best captured by Kochansky, who says, "The cross-fertilization of ideas and practical solutions to design problems happened most effectively because we were focused on a common design effort: a tightly defined project, with a time constraint. The issue of sustainable design, using recycled materials, became central to the growth we all experienced as a group, and set us each on new paths of discovery."

Design Camp Goals

  • creating and expanding consumer markets for artists
  • mentoring of college art and design students by attending artists
  • exposing nationally known artists to the world of recycling and sustainable design
  • developing a base for a sales component

For More Information

Jayne Darke
South Carolina Arts Commission
Phone: 803/734-8682

The work of NASAA and of state arts agencies is supported and strengthened in many ways through partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

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