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New Mill District Art Trail Established Through Grant From John S. and James L. Knight Foundation at CCCF

The Mill District Public Art Trail opened September 7 and is an artistic journey featuring public art by 11 different South Carolina artists. The installation was made possible in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation at Central Carolina Community Foundation.

The trail creatively connects the Mill Village’s Grandby, Whaley and Olympia neighborhoods. It allows visitors to take a self-paced tour of the art and the deep history of the Columbia textile mills.

“This is a chance for people to engage the work in a less formal situation so they can walk right up to it and engage it on their own time frame and walking schedule,” said Michaela Brown, executive director of 701 Center for Contemporary Art.

The idea for the project came from a combination of organizers, community members, volunteers at 701 CCA along with Mill District community members. 701 CCA was looking for a way to directly engage the community by expanding upon its walls and reimagining the Mill District as a vibrant piece of the city.

Sculptures on the trail, separately and collectively, tell the stories of mill workers and the working conditions people underwent: long hours, child labor and safety and health issues.

The specific location of each installation brings about a history within the piece. The sculptures honor mill workers and the textile industry to broadcast the historic aspects of the Mill District while still complimenting the existing public art and mill architecture. For example, some pieces are housed inside guard houses while others are placed throughout residential areas. Each sculpture’s site allows for memory to be preserved which amplifies previously marginalized voices.

The trail is different because it provides a space for art in open air. COVID-19 has affected peoples’ comfortability with attending indoor events, so the art trail provides a solution.

“As people continue to be concerned about being in closed spaces, it’s been an opportunity for us to stay engaged with the community even as some of the other programs had to go on hold,” said Brown.

The Knight Foundation supported this project because of the art trail’s ability to attract and nurture talent as well as enhance the public realm to be more connected and vibrant. The amount of collaboration involved between the community, the Mill District and 701 CCA also attributed to the Knight Foundation’s backing.

“The Knight Foundation was instrumental in every aspect of this from ideation to completion, providing money for the process of design and implementation right to our ability to support artists,” said Brown.

While the trail is free and open to the public, 701 Center for Contemporary Art always accepts and appreciates donations so they can continue providing art for the public.

Find physical addresses of each of the installations here.

Learn more about available the Knight Foundation Advised Fund at Central Carolina Community Foundation here.