The Magazine of South Carolina

Students Get Serious About the Arts

"Art Will Out" at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities


Emily Mercavich and other visual arts majors in a painting class

Music major Vincent Mao

Michelle Beck and Denva Jackson rehearse for a drama class

Article by Dave Partridge/Photos Courtesy Governor's School of the Arts and Humanities

You are parents who have an artistically gifted child—a child who not only enjoys his or her talent, but who has shown serious commitment to it. That child might be a musician, visual artist, creative writer, actor or dancer. He has demonstrated unusual skill. She has dreamed about a professional career.

The State of South Carolina has made an exciting opportunity possible for those students. It is a special public school, an extension of the local public or private high school that is designed to offer specialized, advanced training in the arts. It is called the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

The Governor’s School was established by Gov. Richard Riley in 1980 and in 1981 began the first of its residential summer sessions. Known then simply as the Governor’s School for the Arts, the five-week program of intensive training offered majors in music, creative writing, visual arts, theatre and dance at Furman University. Each summer, students have come from across the state to learn from master teachers and performers from throughout the nation. The results were so good, the students’ responses so enthusiastic, that founder Virginia Uldrick decided in the early 1990s that the school should be expanded to a year-round program by adding a nine-month residential high school. She enlisted the support of state senators J. Verne Smith of Greer and John Drummond of Greenwood, House Speaker David Wilkins of Greenville, Gov. Carroll Campbell and other key government, education and business leaders. Those efforts resulted in the General Assembly passing legislation in 1994 that Gov. Campbell signed, creating the nine-month high school and approving the building of a campus.

For the next five years, Uldrick worked hard planning the school and marshalling the forces to move it from dream to reality. A search committee selected Greenville from among several communities and institutions that had made proposals for the site location. The Greenville architectural firm of Freeman & Major was chosen to design the new campus, to be built on prime downtown property donated by Greenville city and county. The legislature approved $12 million in state funding, with the proviso that the private sector must match state dollars. It did. A committee headed by Minor Shaw of Greenville and Mary Belser of Columbia raised $14.2 million from donor individuals, corporations, foundations and other organizations throughout the state and beyond.

On May 11, 1998, several hundred watched as Triangle Construction Company crews broke ground on what once was part of the old Furman University men’s campus overlooking the Reedy River Falls and Historic Park in the heart of downtown Greenville. Sixteen months later, the campus partially opened. The residence hall was almost completed—enough that the students could sleep and eat there. But for the first few months of the high school’s first year, classes had to be held at various Greenville locations while the classroom buildings were being finished.

By January 2000, when the students in that first class returned from their Christmas break, all classes could be accommodated onsite even while construction crews continued their work. Then, on a sunny April 1 with more than 800 people looking on, Gov. Jim Hodges, former Gov. Campbell, House Speaker Wilkins, Sen. Smith and other dignitaries dedicated the campus. More than 1,200 from throughout the state toured the new facilities—designed to resemble an Italian village—on that milestone day. The dream had become a reality.

The inaugural class was small. Since the high school is designed primarily for juniors and seniors who will attend for two years and graduate from the school, that first year just 130 were accepted. Ten were freshmen and sophomores in dance; the rest were juniors. Most of them returned for their senior year, and a new junior class was enrolled, along with a few more younger dancers. Almost 230 are in residence this school year—250 is the maximum the school can accommodate.

In its 20th year, the Governor’s School has evolved from a series of summer programs—with several Saturday Outreach programs each fall around the state—to a busy year-round campus. Crews barely had time to clean the campus in the 12 days between the departure of summer program students and the arrival of nine-month high school program students last August. Next summer’s five-week programs will begin June 17, just two weeks after high school graduation.

Prospective students usually are introduced to the Governor’s School by an encouraging school teacher, a knowledgeable private instructor or parents, at a special presentation or through the media. Every high school in the state receives information packets and applications, which are distributed to arts teachers. Each student who applies is guaranteed an audition (or portfolio review for a nonper-forming artist) in one of the five arts disciplines: music, visual arts, creative writing, theater or dance. Auditions begin in January and are held in Charleston, Columbia and on the Greenville campus. Judges score the auditions and accompanying interviews. Summer students selected are notified by early March.

Applicants for the nine-month high school also have to exhibit good academic grades and an aptitude for adjusting to a residential setting. Most high school invitations are issued in March.

"As word of the school spreads, we are receiving inquiries and referrals from more sources," says Dr. Patrick Widhalm, dean of arts and academics. "Not only are public school teachers referring students; private teachers—especially in music and dance—are sending us students, and parents are calling for information and applications."

The high school received about 300 applications for this school year. More than 700 usually apply for the summer programs.

Part of the high school’s attraction is its emphasis on academics as well as the arts. Principal Chris Carbaugh says the academic faculty is a valuable blend of teachers from South Carolina and across the country with experience at the secondary and college level.

School president Uldrick insisted on excellence in the faculty. Dr. Carbaugh is but one example. He designed and directed the Greenville County School District’s International Baccalaureate Program, was Upper School Director at Greenville’s prestigious Christ Church Episcopal School, is a Fulbright Scholar, holds a doctor of education degree from Clemson University and teaches four subjects. Science department chairman Dr. Mike Farmer was South Carolina’s selection for NASA’s Teacher-in-Space in 1986. Social studies chair Julie Allen taught at Dutch Fork High School in Columbia. English department chair Dr. Jennifer Thomas was a faculty member at Newberry College.

"Seventy-three of the 125 students who completed our first high school year were enrolled in the National Honor Society," Uldrick says proudly. "That is a tribute not only to the strength of our faculty and curriculum but also to the fine public and private schools, private instructors and home schooling parents who sent us these excellent students. And this year, 102 of our 227 students are in the society, and we have five National Merit Scholar semifinalists."

The superb arts faculty combines teachers with wide experience as instructors and performers, as represented by the five department chairs.

Sasha Starchevich, chair of music, is completing his doctoral degree in piano at Yale University. A native of Vancouver, Canada, he is a concert pianist who has performed in many countries.

Stanislas Issaev, chair of dance, is a Russian native who performed with the Moscow Ballet. The recipient of many awards for his dancing, he was principal dancer with the Atlanta Ballet and came to the Governor’s School from the University of South Carolina’s Dance Conservatory. Michael Brodeur, chair of visual arts, is a painter who holds a master of fine arts degree from Boston University and exhibits nationally; he taught at two schools in Florida and has been cochair of the Visual Arts Department in the Governor’s School’s Summer Programs for many years.

Bob Francesconi, chair of theater, has for years been assistant dean in the School of Drama at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. He holds bachelor and master degrees in drama and theater arts from Humboldt State University and has taught internationally. Jan Bailey, chair of creative writing, is a graduate of Mary Baldwin College who earned a master of fine arts in creative writing from Vermont College; a published poet, she was a writer- in-residence at the Greenville County School District’s Fine Arts Center and teaches in Maine each summer.

They are joined by other full-time faculty and a large part-time faculty with wide teaching and performing experience in the arts. A strong arts faculty also teaches each year in the school’s summer programs. Some of the faculty from the high school stay on campus to teach during the summer, while others—many of whom have taught in the summer programs for years—come to the campus from all over the United States.

Studying a full academic curriculum and majoring in an intense art discipline requires dedicacation, focus, hard work and long hours of effort. But these students don’t mind. They like the results and the prospects for scholarships and exciting career opportunities. And not only in the arts, but also in education, medicine, government and other areas that intrigue ambitious young minds and personalities.

It’s not all work and no play. An active Student Services Department works with the student council and faculty planning special events and interesting field trips and meeting individual needs. "Our goal is to keep our students happy, safe and comfortable," says Department Director Sally Stratton, a long-time Governor’s School student life director and former Furman faculty member.

"The South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities is a wonderful example of a successful public-private partnership," says Virginia Uldrick. She refers not only to the generosity of donors who gave to the capital campaign which more than matched state funding and paid for building the new campus. She and the students are also grateful to corporate and individual donors who each year give hundreds of thousands of dollars to augment state and tuition money to underwrite the summer and outreach programs and to provide special learning opportunities for summer and high school students through the Student Enrichment Fund.

She reserves particular praise for the state General Assembly, which has strongly supported the school with capital and operational funding. In tribute to that support, the board of the Governor’s School last September recognized Sen. Smith of Greer, one of the earliest and most influential supporters of the school and a generous private contributor as well, by naming the student residence hall in his honor.

A major component of the Governor’s School’s mission is the distance learning programming, which the school offers to high schools across the state. It will be able to offer master classes and other video programming—both one-way and two-way interactive live video programming—to high schools throughout the state. Roddy Gray, director of distance learning, says the programming not only will be available to students but will provide courses and seminars for teachers. He and his staff already have produced several programs, have more on the schedule and are eager to talk with teachers who have ideas or requests for programming that would help them and their students. This means the Governor’s School will benefit not only those artistically gifted students who pass an audition and are admitted to study in the school’s summer or high school programs; it also will be able to benefit potentially every arts student and teacher in the state.

In addition, arts teachers may apply for courses through its graduate internship program, offered each year at Furman University. Every summer more than 60 teachers attend those classes.

The Governor’s School operates as a public school under the State Department of Education. A board of 18 directors, appointed by the governor and chaired by businessman Larry Wilson of Columbia, provide oversight. The Governor’s School Foundation consists of 30 volunteer board members from throughout the state who spearhead the fund-raising efforts to support the school. While the state underwrites the high school program and part of the summer program, additional funds are sought from the private sector to pay some of the costs of the summer programs as well as to build an endowment fund.

Now that the first phase of the new campus in Greenville is finished, Phase 2 already is underway to add a science lab, three more academic classrooms, additional faculty offices and a small half-gym and fitness center. That is a $2.8-million project, to which the state has contributed $1.2 million. A capital campaign is underway to raise $2.2 million to pay for the rest of the construction costs and to endow the project. A statewide Development Committee is working to raise that money. Naming opportunities are available for all the rooms and facilities in the project.

"We are hoping and expecting that many individuals and business firms will have an interest in contributing to this campaign," says Erwin Maddrey III, chairman of the campaign. "When people across the state learn more about the school and understand the high academic and arts standards that we have, I believe they will want to support this effort."

Contributions to the school are tax-deductible and can be made through the school’s foundation.

Dave Partridge is former vice president of institutional advancement for the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and president of the school’s foundation.

For more information, contact the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, 15 University St., Greenville, SC 29601; (864) 241-1229 or 282-3777;


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