story by cindy reid
photography by paul nurnberg
Beaufort is special in so many ways that it is impossible to count them all; glorious scenery, fabulous food, sparking waterways and the vibrant arts and cultural scene. Recently, Beaufort has been honored to receive the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts in the Government category, for the partnership between the City of Beaufort and The University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) Center for the Arts. This is an annual award presented by the South Carolina Arts Commission and is the highest honor the state gives in the arts, recognizing outstanding achievement and contribution. The SC Arts Commission states, “The USCB Center for the Arts has been the heart of the City of Beaufort’s rich and diverse arts culture for 30 years, serving as both the sponsor and venue of all forms of arts. The City and the Center for the Arts partner to provide and promote opportunities for residents and visitors to benefit from the arts, including events such as The Pat Conroy Literary Festival, the 2016 S.C. Humanities Festival, theatre productions, concerts, multiple gallery exhibitions and more. This collaboration between government and a non-profit organization has been a catalyst to make Beaufort a robust arts and cultural center.”
Director of the USCB Center for the Arts, Bonnie Hargrove says, “I have been in arts administration for twenty years and have always aspired to this achievement. I am deeply honored to represent the USCB Center for the Arts and to be sharing the award with the City of Beaufort.”
Beaufort Lifestyle sat down with Bonnie to talk about the Center for the Arts and how she came to be involved with its remarkable achievements.
Although not from South Carolina originally, Bonnie is a native Southerner born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. She says, “My family is there; I grew up there, went to high school there and graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Communications. After graduation I married and we moved from Nebraska to Tennessee, South Carolina, and then back to Tennessee. We settled in Walterboro, South Carolina where I raised my three children, Taylor, Hargrove and Belle. “All three graduated from University of South Carolina, one going on to attend law school. All three now live in the Columbia area. I have some exciting news- my beautiful daughter-in-law, Lauren, and my son Hargrove are soon going be giving me the blessing of a grandchild, my first!”
While living in Walterboro, Bonnie was the director of the Colleton County Arts Council where she started a children’s theater. She says, “I started the children’s theater in Walterboro primarily for my daughter Belle. I remembered my theatre experiences in Birmingham, how magical it was, and I wanted my children to have that experience.”
She says, “I really loved Walterboro but after my divorce I was ready for a change. I had multiple interviews in Beaufort and was offered the position of Director of Beaufort Performing Arts Center (PAC). It was perfect timing, so I accepted the job. When the PAC shut its doors two years later, I called Dr. Jane Upshaw (then chancellor of USCB) and we discussed how parts of the PAC could still work; but in a different way. Dr. Upshaw was great, she said, “Okay, show me a plan.” A committee was formed to develop a business plan which was presented to Dr. Upshaw. She said yes, and every year since, the CFA continues to grow!”
The Center for the Arts is located on the Historic Beaufort Campus of USCB and is part of the USCB Community Outreach (CO) Department. Although under the umbrella of USCB, the Center for the Arts is a self-supporting, non-profit organization. “We earn our salaries, marketing and advertising budgets, funds for costumes, props, etc., through the generous support of individuals and corporate sponsors along with revenue generated from our productions “ says Bonnie. “We could not exist without the support of our current chancellor, Dr. Panu and the support that USCB provides including the physical building, utilities, insurance, and maintenance.”
Bonnie and Deon Furman, Assistant Director, are the only staff but they have at least 50 fabulous volunteers and they “hire in” people for sound, lighting and other technical jobs for various productions. The Center’s production schedule runs September through May, Bonnie says, “It is our busy time – no vacations!” This year, the season will be wrapping up with a Beaufort Children’s Theater production of “Aladdin Jr,” May 19-21.
Each season is different from the next and each program is unique. Programs run the gamut from musical productions, comedy shows, concerts, Lunch with Author Series and independent films to art exhibits, children’s theatre, and even Chinese acrobats at one time. According to Bonnie, “Diverse programs reflect my personality, in that I am personally interested in a huge variety of arts and I know many people in our community are as well. We truly try to offer something for everyone and every age.” The Center for the Arts also serves as the venue for other wonderful productions and events including USCB Festival Series, Beaufort International Film Festival, Friends of the Library “Books Sandwiched In,” community dance recitals, school productions and much more.
When asked what have been significant programs for her, Bonnie says, “This season’s ‘The Redneck Tenors’ was big for me. It was meaningful to see audience’s response and hear how much they loved them! Another emotional moment was during the performance of the “Black Violins,” when a child in the audience brought up his violin to be signed. Seeing the wonderfully diverse audience that performance brought was inspirational to me as well.”
Bonnie says, “The one event that will always stand out as special highlight, is the Pat Conroy at 70 Festival. We proved to ourselves, the community and people who attended from all over the country that we can successfully pull off a big festival and it felt good. Of course, the fact that it was a celebration of Pat Conroy’s 70th birthday and his exceptional literary contributions; well, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
She is looking forward to the upcoming “Salute to Satchmo” event on Thursday, April 20 at 7:30 PM. It is the Louis Armstrong Society Jazz Band’s tribute to the life, music, and spirit of Louis Armstrong. The band is comprised of members of the Louis Armstrong Society, a secret organization in which musicians perform by invitation only.
After the “Aladdin Jr” production, the theatre ‘goes dark’ and the planning, scheduling, and behind the scenes work gets done. This year, the theatre will be installing new lighting and surround sound, with new seats on the wish list for next year. Of course it won’t be completely quiet in there, as there will be three summer theatre camps for children and teens.
Everyone has at least one “favorite Beaufort place” and Bonnie is no exception. She smiles and says, “My screened porch which looks out over the beautiful Beaufort River. I enjoy watching the sailboats boats go by, talking to neighbors and perhaps enjoying a glass of wine.” She continues, “When I can, I like to go to the beach on a weekday, no crowds then. Another real simple pleasure is to get an ice cream downtown and sit outside at the waterfront park.”
What keeps her excited about Beaufort is the variety of people here. “I feel we are so fortunate to have so many different folks in our community. I absolutely love to hear their stories, from the people who have lived here their entire lives, to people like me who chose to move here. I always like to know why people are here! For me, it was the best decision of my life.”
For further information and upcoming schedule see: