The following history of the Anderson Artists Guild is a collaborative effort of several long-time members:
The players in the story of the Anderson Artists Association (later known as the Anderson Artists Guild) and the Anderson County Arts Center (later known as The Anderson Arts Center) are so intertwined that it is impossible to tell the story of one without the story of the other. Consequently, this is an abbreviated history of two divergent yet conjoined groups whose interests are identical: fostering the practice and appreciation of the arts in our greater community.
Since their inception in 1972, the Anderson Artists Guild and the formal bricks-and-mortar Anderson Arts Center have provided vital arts education throughout the entire county and area, stimulated economic growth, and developed into a major partner in tourism and public arts projects. The early leadership of individuals such as Callie Stringer Rainey and family and Elizabeth Belser Fuller steered the original organization to the catalyst for change, education, and culture that it is today.
The Anderson Artists Association was enthusiastically voted into existence on the campus of Anderson College on September 26, 1972, by a crowd of fellow arts organizations, city and county officials, civic clubs, and others interested in improving the cultural environment of Anderson County. They also named the first advisory board consisting of Mrs. Gayle Edwards, Mrs. Elizabeth Wakefield, Mrs. Mary Linne Otter, Mrs. Sara Liverance, Mrs. Callie Rainey, Bill Bridges, Herman Keith, and Dr. Cordell Maddox.
The early meetings of the Anderson Artists Association were held at Anderson College, but the need for a permanent “home” was obvious. In 1972, the Historic Carnegie Library became vacant, and Callie Rainey, along with other members, thought the space would be perfect for an arts center. However, because it was located in the Downtown Anderson Historic District, it could not be renovated without permission granted by the Pendleton District Historical Commission. Mrs. Rainey then contacted the commission for permission to rent and renovate the inside space. She acquired authorization and the group agreed to rent the space for $1 a year, and The Anderson County Arts Center was chartered. For many years, the front area of the building was used for an art gallery and the back area was used for musical performances.
Over the next few years, musical performances and exhibitions for individual artists from the area were held in the building. A new “members only” exhibit for The Anderson Artists Association began and is in existence today. It is usually held in the summer and always draws a large crowd.
In 1978, the gallery space at the rear area of the building needed to be updated. Two large windows needed to be covered with plywood and carpet for a display area. The director applied to the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) for a grant to do the renovation but was turned down. Undeterred, an appeal was begun and ultimately the grant was awarded. Blair Mills in Belton provided the plywood and carpet, and The Anderson Artists Association members did the work. After the renovations, with more space available, the Anderson County Arts Center added the annual “juried” show. This show is known as the longest continuous juried exhibition in the state. Artists from all over the state enter their work. In the beginning and for many years the show was limited to what could be exhibited in the available space; however, in recent years this has expanded to include public art/sculpture.
The same year, the Executive Director and board president, JoAnne Anderson, attended a fundraising workshop given by the SCAC. Out of this seminar came the idea for the first “Celebrity Auction.” Members of The Artists Association donated their artwork to be auctioned to the highest bidder. The fundraiser was successful beyond anyone’s expectations. $3000 was the objective but instead, they raised $9000. The funds became the operating budget for the center. The annual auction has continued to this day with Anderson Artists Guild members donating their work in support of the Anderson Arts Center.
When the Sullivan Hardware Company closed and sold its property to the City of Anderson, the space was renovated into “incubator” retail stores called the Sullivan Shoppes. The building also included a large space for a restaurant—where Sullivan’s Metropolitan Grill is now located. In those first few years, however, attempts to find a restaurant were unsuccessful. The Arts Center at this time wanted to expand programming but to do that they needed space. Consequently, the Arts Center was able to use the open space at The Sullivan Shoppes for special events. The Annual Juried Exhibit was held there for a few years as were summer art camps and Arts Center sponsored workshops.
During the period that the Arts Center occupied the Sullivan Shoppes, they opened a pottery gallery, now Cahaly’s Custom Men’s Clothing. The Arts Center had a manager, and various potters were represented in the space. The Arts Center was paid a commission on sales by the potters. The gallery space at the Sullivan Center was called “Pottery Two.” Creative Connections, a group of local artists who met on a regular basis to critique each other’s work, was invited to rent the space where the Sullivan’s bar is now located. They agreed to open a small gallery called Gallery Ten in the space, to provide man-hours and pay a commission to the Arts Center. Eventually, Sullivan’s Metropolitan Grill renovated and moved into the larger space and required the gallery space as well. Gallery Ten then moved in with Pottery Two and became “Gallery Ten and Pottery Too!” After the renovations were made to the Arts center warehouse, the gallery became “Bay 3 Artisan Gallery” and relocated. While Bay 3 Gallery is not associated with the Anderson Artists Guild as a member gallery, all gallery co-operative partners are members of the Guild and the Anderson Arts Center. All co-operative partners are juried into the gallery when space allows by the group partners. Each partner is required to work in the gallery, pay a yearly fee, sign a contract, and pay a commission on all work sold.
After Sullivan’s Metropolitan Grill took over the main floor of the Sullivan Shoppes in 1999, and the Anderson Arts Center lost its “annex” space, the Arts Center was in need of more space. Having foreseen the eventual need of a much larger space, the Anderson County Arts Center had already begun making efforts to acquire and renovate P&N Railway Warehouse adjacent to the Carnegie Building. A donated a piece of property and a generous bequest provided the seed money to begin the process of purchasing and renovating the 17,000-square-foot warehouse at 101 Federal Street. In order to make the massive renovations necessary, a capital fundraising campaign was undertaken. It was hugely successful and raised $3,500,000, which resulted in the beautiful Anderson Arts Center we have today. The Anderson Arts Center Warehouse also included rented space by Anderson County for the Anderson Visitors and Convention Bureau. There were donors from major foundations to school children. The major donors who helped make this a reality are listed on a plaque in the downstairs entryway.
By the time the Anderson Arts Center Warehouse opened, the Anderson Artists Association had changed its name to the Anderson Artists Guild. This was done to help distinguish the two groups from each other. When the Guild was approached to make its contribution to the new Arts Center, the group overwhelmingly voted to provide a “window,” a locked display case. Funds came from a long-held certificate of deposit, individual donations from guild members and fundraising events. This window is located across from Bay 3 Artisan Gallery on the lower level. It provides space for individual guild members to display their work on a rotating basis. Additionally, the Arts Center continues to provide a meeting room and includes time in the exhibit schedule and the space for the Guild’s annual “members only” show.
The Anderson Arts Center is also home to a church, an interior decorating firm, an architectural firm beside The Visitors Center, Bay 3 Artisan Gallery, classrooms, and rental venues.
Of further note, the Pendleton Historic Commission officially waived the $1 yearly rental fee in 2019, which means that the original Anderson County Arts Center Building/Carnegie Library Building belongs to The Anderson Arts Center.