On an agreeably sunny Sunday in mid-December, the beer was flowing and the art was moving outside of Tradesman Brewing Co.
It was the first For the Love of Art Festival, held Dec. 13 just outside of the brew pub. About 20 masked artists staffed tented stations stretching the length of the brewery’s patio, which were peppered with amenities like the SoCu food truck and a coffee station. Posted signs declared “Share art not germs.”
Naturally there was plenty of Tradesman craft beer on offer, like Bricklayer’s Red Ale and Welders Agave Wheat, which were handed to patrons in a socially distanced line.
The art spanned styles and genres, from the soulful watercolors of Charleston houses by Rebecca Hopkins to fetching decoupaged oyster shells by Mary Morris to transfixing portraits of Morowa Mosai or Lucius Nelson.
For Tradesman, the seamless brew of art and froth has become a regular fixture, offering a safe outdoor haven for Charleston artists and practitioners who, in light of the pandemic, are hard-pressed to share their work in the usual spaces.
That doesn’t just apply to visual arts. In the past few months, Tradesman has hosted musical performances from the Village Repertory Co. as well as those by Unbound Ballet Project as part of the Charleston Arts Festival. The brewery also welcomed a drive-thru book signing for author Vivian Howard on behalf of Blue Bicycle Books.
Other businesses have also worked with artists and organizations lately. Firefly Distillery has hosted Charleston Jazz and Charleston Opera Theater, flagging spots on the grounds for camp chair-toting concertgoers.
When the Charleston Music Hall shuttered its doors due to COVID-19, The Bend in North Charleston worked with them this fall on the “Around the Bend” outdoor music series, seating patrons in roped-off pods.
“We were thrilled by our 11 concerts out at The Bend, and the generosity of Susan Pearlstine to work with us to help make it possible,” offered Charles Carmody, executive director of the Charleston Music Hall.
For the Love of the Arts
For Sara Gayle McConnell, co-founder of Trademan Brewing Co., such artistic adaptability is no great leap.
“Artists are all creative people anyway, so it’s easy to to pivot and change,” she said.
The brewery is plenty pivot-friendly, too. Its support of the arts started in September with Village Repertory Co., which was recently forced to close the downtown Woolfe Street Playhouse as the pandemic delivered the final blow to paying the theater’s sizable rent.
McConnell, a former nurse, was confident she possessed both the space and the health care know-how to create a safe venue for artists on Tradesman’s 2.3-acre lot.
“I kept thinking, ‘We’re gonna take a real beating because you can’t teach art’,” she said in reference to the traditional methods that run afoul of social distancing measures. “This is just troublesome because you can totally still do art. … You just have to be really cognizant of how you can adapt to do it.”
According to Keely Enright, founder of Village Rep, McConnell has been an involved partner, providing help on marketing, stage setup and more. After the success of “Summer Comfort,” the team re-upped the effort there with “Christmas Comfort.”
“Sara was a real cheerleader, urging me to get busy creating a holiday comfort show, which gave me the kick in the fanny I needed to get it up in time to open.”
Enright also connected McConnell with Crystal Wellman, founder of Unbound Ballet Project. According to McConnell, the company had been discouraged from performing before McConnell offered.
“She looked at me and she got very emotional,” recalled McConnell.
For the Love of Art
According to Chad Dyar, a photographer and co-founder of the For the Love of Art Festival, the visual arts event was born out of a brief conversation between him and McConnell on the back patio of Tradesman one afternoon this fall.
“The credit belongs to them, but knowing them, I know that they would just pass the credit along to the community,” Dyar said of co-founders McConnell, her husband Scott McConnell and Chris Winn. “It’s what they stand for. It’s who they rally behind.”
When McConnell realized that visual artists needed community support, she posed the plan to Dyar, a former Tradesman bartender.
“I’ve been aching for this kind of interaction on a larger scale,” said Dyar.
At his tented setup at the arts festival, his vibrant architectural and adventure photography engaged a steady stream of festival attendees, who politely waited as others chatted with the artist.
“It adds a whole other layer when I’m able to speak with people face-to-face about my photographs,” he said via email. “Sharing these kinds of stories can absolutely be done online, but it’s not quite the same as being in the presence of someone else as you’re describing the sandstorm you were caught in on top of this volcano.”
There are other key factors, too. At the event, one artist relayed to McConnell that based on her sales that day she would be able to pay her rent that month.
“I used my space and someone needs to pay their bills,” she said she told her husband that night, adding that it was the best present she could receive.
“I don’t really need anything for Christmas. I’m good.”