When plans were laid for the construction of the new Gaillard Center, many in Charleston hoped the performance hall, which opened in 2015, would welcome local artists and provide a community-based headquarters for the arts.
But the nature of the new enterprise — its economics and venue configuration — required that the Gaillard team quickly find ways to generate income by, in part, booking big headliners.
In the years since it opened, the performance hall has accommodated some local productions, including Charleston Symphony Orchestra concerts, Charleston Jazz Festival shows and special civic events, but it remains necessarily focused on filling as many of its 1,800 seats as possible. And that means emphasizing national acts, touring musical theater productions and popular children’s theater over local performers.
The Gaillard Center’s Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall. Steve Hall/Provided
But now the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdown have forced the Gaillard’s staff (and many other venue operators) to think creatively and embrace video and internet technologies. And that has opened strategic and programming doors.
“We have hosted internationally acclaimed artists time and time again, some of whom belong in arenas or only perform in venues such as Carnegie Hall,” wrote Therese Spaseff, the Gaillard’s director of entertainment and programming, in an internal email that was shared with The Post and Courier. “We have commissioned new works and exposed students to artists such as MOMIX, Black Violin and Keb’ Mo’. What we were missing was supporting local emerging artists and giving them a platform and resources to grow. This is what our local arts community needs more than ever right now.”
On June 3, the Gaillard Center will launch a free live-streamed series called “Lowcountry Listens,” featuring local artists performing on stage in the hall. The concerts will be recorded with multiple cameras and sound will be mixed in-house. Videos will be streamed online at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, initially for five weeks. If the Gaillard succeeds in finding financial support, it will extend the series.
She Returns From War performing in 2019. John Carlos/Provided
“The goal of ‘Lowcountry Listens’ is to offer emerging artists a platform to perform, professional and high-quality video content they can use for future bookings/social media, and compensation during a time when they are unable to tour,” Spaseff wrote. “We are creating an alumni network of home-grown Lowcountry artists that will call the Gaillard Center home. More importantly, we are giving them resources and support to survive the gig drought from the pandemic, keep creating music, land record label deals, sign with major agencies, and be the next Ranky Tanky or Darius Rucker.”
PNC Bank has committed to provide $10,000 in support, according to Gaillard staff, who now are seeking additional sponsors.
Local violinist Daniel D will join the lineup for the Gaillard Center’s “Lowcountry Listens” series. Provided
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The Gaillard team has booked five gigs featuring, respectively, violinist Daniel D., the band She Returns From War, singer-songwriter Brendan James, singer-songwriter Grace Joyner, and Will Blackburn of the band Stop Light Observations.
Grace Joyner will take part in the “Lowcountry Listens” series, produced by the Gaillard Center. Jess Spence/Provided
Spaseff is also in talks with Charleston Jazz, Chamber Music Charleston, Charleston Stage, Theatre 99 and others “to see how the Gaillard Center can be a resource for them.”
Social distancing in small venues can be difficult, and some artists and presenters could benefit from the larger Gaillard concert hall, Spaseff noted.
Stephanie Shipe, Gaillard’s vice president of marketing and sales, said it’s a tough time for all nonprofits, especially those dedicated to the performing arts, and it’s the sponsors and donors who help keep things going during a period when earned income has dried up.
“Our intent is for us to come out even, and to be able to give artists a fee, and to provide arts the community can enjoy,” she said.
Spaseff said the pandemic has produced a silver lining of sorts, an opportunity to cultivate relationships with local performers and to introduce audiences to Lowcountry talent.
“We don’t just want to be the big guys in town presenting national touring artists,” she said. “We want local artists to grow, and (we want) to give them the support they need.”
In so doing, the Gaillard also can benefit by expanding its reach and influence. And by providing a virtual stage to local musicians, the Gaillard can help generate excitement for the return of patrons to the actual stage.
“It’s wonderful to be able to see a concert digitally, but we all are looking forward to the day when we can see it in person,” she said.