Stormwater Studios

Posted On March 4, 2018

Columbia’s pledge of allegiance to the arts

by Rachel Haynie

Columbia’s latest tangible evidence that the Capitol City is committed to visual arts as a valued factor in residents’ quality of life just opened. Stormwater Studios has emerged on a slender urban space near the river’s edge, off Huger Street behind One Eared Cow Glass and Lewis + Clark Studios. 

Its location will catalyze a direction in which The Vista, now saturated, can further enhance the growth and development of the Columbia City Center.

One of the 10 highly-regarded artists making the move from Vista Studios at 808 Lady Street to the end of Pendleton Street, said, “Stormwater Studios will form a nexus of the City’s cultural evolution.” Stephen Chesley called the completion of the long-anticipated project an initiative that “recognizes the importance of art and culture in the grand future of Columbia.”

Arts catalyzed that first renaissance that ushered in The Vista; now arts are catalyzing a timely turn-of-the-corner, onto Huger Street, giving The Vista a new corridor for growth. Vista Studios was an early and integral art presence in The Vista.

Vista Studios President Kirkland Smith said: “Vista Studios has served a number of artists during the 27 years it has been opened. Although it’s been an important part of The Vista, which recently received the distinction of being designated an ‘Arts District,’ Vista Studios has not been spared gentrification and, as usually happens when an area is revitalized, the artists have been pushed out for businesses that can afford the higher rent.”

Smith added: “One thing that is special about Stormwater Studios is they have been built for the future of the arts in Columbia. Zoned for art, the idea is to create a permanent studio space for artists. Having the City (of Columbia) contribute to the project shows its support for keeping the visual arts a vital part of the Vista.”

Heidi Darr-Hope added: “To have a dedicated artist colony that can’t be gentrified, can’t be sold as the property values increase is a testament to the value our city leaders place on the arts.”

The project was on the drawing board for years, but never strayed from the imagination of visionary Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp. Delk emphatically said: “The CDC board decides which projects will be taken on; I could do nothing without them.” 

Since 1983, CDC has been the public-private partnership entity undergirding commercial and residential development projects, especially in the urban sector known as Columbia City Center. A signal example of CDC projects has been the redevelopment of the Congaree Vista, once a dreary, overlooked warehouse and railroad district, now a thriving arts and entertainment mecca.

The plot of urban property on which Delk had his eye, and on which Stormwater Studios ultimately emerged, was predestined for art. During Kirk Finley’s tenure as Columbia’s mayor, the property – close to a section of the Congaree River – had been earmarked for development by the Columbia Museum of Art (CMA). When premium space at the corner of Hampton and Main Streets became available, CMA chose it, and the plot at the end of Pendleton Street, off Huger Street, sat waiting for decision makers to see its worth for other art purposes. 

Vista Studio artists who will become Stormwater Studio artists are: 

The cadre of artists leaves behind a strong sentiment of appreciation for architects Richard Molten and Dick Lamar, who allowed them to create and exhibit at 808 Lady Street - at rental rates that conveyed an allegiance to the arts. 

Delk explained the artists will have “virtually the same amount of work and exhibit space they have had for more than a quarter century at 808 Lady Street, although it is configured differently. The entrance doubles as central gallery.” 

Artists whose studios face the future courtyard have roll-up doors, facilitating their maneuvering of art materials (think: stone and clay headed into sculpture studios.) Open spaces will enable them to showcase their work more advantageously to patrons as well as students. Spacious exhibition space and lighting will make Stormwater Studios a coveted space in which to show art. 

Clark Ellefson designed the kitchen/hospitality area.

A natural aesthetic that rarifies this location is Kinsler Creek, running just behind the studios. The creek that inspired the nickname Stormwater – which has stuck and become de facto – feeds into the Congaree River just beyond a thick hedgerow. Within easy view of the capitol, the property – interspersed by concrete trails - make this spot an urban oasis.

The complex designed by L2R Studios and built by Buchanan Construction Company, is configured by half of the studios facing this green oasis. Others, opening to a front courtyard, await landscaping. The outside areas, circled by an apron of paved walkways, extend the studio building’s creative space and lend themselves to a sculpture garden, outside work, visitation and teaching, all spilling out into nature. Developers appropriately foresee the Kinsler Creek Greenway ultimately linking to the ever-expanding Riverwalk system.

In addition to the 10 former Vista Studio artists, the eleventh studio will become workspace for an MFA-candidate from the University of South Carolina School of Visual Art and Design working in sculpture. 

“Forging this relationship is new ground for Columbia,” Delk said. “USC has not had an off-campus site, so having a graduate student in there will afford the art department visibility within the broader community.”

A university presence also realizes the teaching aspects that are philosophically inherent in the project. A key point of studios occupied by working artists is to allow others to see creativity taking on life.

Stormwater Studios will begin participating in First Thursdays as soon as artists are settled and will welcome guests to Open Studios and Artista Vista. Both events are scheduled for April.