You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Myrtle Beach Art Museum ponders leaving historic home as it celebrates 25th anniversary

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 6/30/2022 Chase Karacostas, The State

Not everyone knows Myrtle Beach has an art museum, but many people can surely recognize Ringo.

Ringo, a 10-foot octopus made out of wire and trash, sits in front of the art museum facing the ocean.

Aside from Ringo, one could be forgiven for not noticing the art museum. The building is largely hidden behind massive live oak trees. The only sign that it might be more than just an old beach house is the steps leading up to its entrance, recently painted with a portrait of Frida Kahlo, in honor of the museum’s current exhibition.

The museum’s lack of notoriety — as it marks its 25th anniversary — is one of the reasons its director, supporters and the city are considering moving it to the new Arts & Innovation District planned for downtown Myrtle Beach.

June, actually, marks a trio of milestones for the museum. Not only is it the museum’s silver anniversary and the opening of the “The World of Frida,” but the museum also just received grants totaling $75,000 to conduct a feasibility study for the potential move downtown.

“The arts are extremely important to a vibrant community. And when you look at look at the arts here, we’ve got pieces of it kind of scattered,” said Mike Mancuso, the executive director of the Waccamaw Community Foundation, which organized the grant funding. “And the idea of the Arts & Innovation District, it really is an attractive place for a lot of reasons.”

Attracting more visitors

Pat Goodwin became the Myrtle Beach Art Museum’s director in 2002, five years after it opened in 1997.

Her first directive? Get more people in the door, in any way possible.

“I drove up and I pulled into the parking lot of this building, and some kind of magic happened. I just thought it was such a charming setting and had such potential,” she said. “The committee that interviewed me said what they really wanted. They didn’t want an artist. They didn’t want an art historian. They wanted somebody to bring people into the building.”

So Goodwin eliminated paid admission in 2003. Given how many Myrtle Beach residents worked in lower-paying hospitality industry jobs and that the city marketed itself as an affordable destination, she saw charging admission as an unnecessary barrier.

It was a risky bet, cutting off such a prominent revenue stream, but the tactic worked. Within a year, visitation doubled, growing the museum’s revenue with it. Major donors appreciated the museum’s desire to expand access to the arts to everyone, sales at the gift shop grew 600%, and visitors dropped off more money in the donation box than they ever got from admissions.

“The average person doesn’t think of ‘Myrtle Beach’ and ‘art museum.’ You sort of have to find us,” said Goodwin, who came to South Carolina from Philadelphia, where she worked for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. “And once you do, chances are you’ll come back.”

The museum also focuses on finding intriguing exhibits that will stand out to locals and visitors — ones they will “talk about.” It has brought in art made from Legos; an exhibit inspired by John James Audubon, the famed nature painter; and a showcase that was all about foods of the South.

“We wanted to bring the people in that knew about Frida Kahlo, and we also wanted to educate about Frida Kahlo,” Goodwin said of the current exhibit. “We wanted them to learn about Frida, but we also want them to learn about the art, the artists that were inspired by Frida and the work that they’re putting on the wall.”

The museum has seen the benefits of these moves grow ever since. When she first took the job, Goodwin said the museum budget was about $200,000. Now it’s nearly quadrupled to $750,000.

“I firmly believe that an art museum completes a city,” she said. “I think you really can’t have a growing city and a city that is saying, ‘Come on, live here, be part of this, we have jobs for you.’ I think you can’t really do that if you don’t have culture. The art museum, the symphony, the Master Chorale, I think we all complete the Myrtle Beach experience.”

Serving the community

As growing admissions and donations brought in more money, Goodwin sought to expand the art educational opportunities the museum offered.

The museum started out with a single art program in partnership with Chapin Memorial Library. That quickly grew to Saturday kids arts programs that expanded from classes for 5- to 7-year-olds all the way up to teenagers. Staff even added a “Mommy and Me” class so young kids could come in and learn art with their parents. In 2018, the museum also opened up a pottery studio on its ground floor, which has been successful in attracting attendees ever since.

Goodwin also worked to bring more art out into the local community, rather than expecting people to always come to the museum. Every month, museum instructors go to libraries across Georgetown and Horry counties. They also visit up to a dozen day cares a month. And any time they are teaching a class with a new book, they leave a copy for the students to use in the future.

“We reach a lot of children, and I don’t think your average person who’s thinking about becoming an art museum member really may understand that” is what their donations support, Goodwin said.

Outreach involves Myrtle Beach’s marginalized communities, too. On June 25, the museum hosted an event in partnership with Pride Myrtle Beach to bring LGBTQ+ people together during Pride Month and teach them about Kahlo, a queer icon to much of the artistic community.

The art museum goes beyond just teaching art. It puts the art of those same students on display. For 22 years now, area high school students have submitted their work to be featured in the galleries.

Plans for the future

In its current location, the Myrtle Beach Art Museum isn’t just hidden. The building it resides in has limitations: space, for one, but a century of aging is starting to show.

A textile mogul built Springmaid Villa nearly 100 years ago in 1924, 8 miles north of its current location. The building was slated for demolition in the 1970s, but a campaign to save it won control, pending the entire building be moved elsewhere, according to the museum’s website.

A three-day effort by the city and Springmaid’s supporters brought the mansion to its new home on South Ocean Boulevard. But a half-century later, the building’s white-painted exterior is cracking and the twin staircases that lead up to its original entrance facing the ocean are both unusable. Caution tape blocks visitors from setting foot on them.

Inside the building, visitors could never tell how old it is. The place is pristine, and every inch of space is used with precision. “The World of Frida” exhibit includes 114 works of art by 94 artists, a feat that would seem impossible looking at the building from the outside.

Using every inch of space, however, means there’s little room to grow. While nothing is set in stone, Goodwin said more space would be one of the many benefits of moving the museum to downtown.

“We’re (not) just jumping into anything,” Goodwin said. “But we are very interested in the process. We could have more gallery space, more office space, more classroom space, more storage space. We can have a small restaurant. We can have a larger shop. All of these things will contribute to just a more exciting art museum experience, and we’ll be right downtown in the heart of things.”

Being downtown would also help the museum build a stronger connection to the Myrtle Beach community and its visitors. Right now, the museum isn’t walking distance from much, save for a few hotels and an RV park.

In downtown, the museum would be where the people are. Offering free admission, it could easily get foot traffic from visitors who are already downtown to see the sights.

“As a fairly new local, I wasn’t made aware of it until some of this started to come come together. I didn’t even know where the art museum was, and then to find that gem right there on the beach was just phenomenal,” Mancuso said. “We just need to do a better job of telling folks where this is and what it is.”

At the same time, the Springmaid Villa’s close quarters give off a particularly welcoming feel, Goodwin notes. The building isn’t intimidating like walking into The Met in New York City.

“I know big museums. And as wonderful as they are, they can be a tad intimidating ,” Goodwin said. “But most people, no matter what age, they walk in here and there’s a comfort level. And I think if that’s your first art museum experience, I think you carry that for the rest of your life.”

And if the museum moves, what happens to Ringo?

“Way back when, the city expressed interest in it,” Goodwin said. Maybe Ringo will move downtown, too.

Oh, and why does Ringo exist, one might ask? He was built several years ago as part of a 2019 exhibit showcasing works from trash that otherwise would have gone into the ocean ... and the Horry County Solid Waste Authority paid for him.

©2022 The State. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


More from The State (Columbia, SC)

The State (Columbia, SC)
The State (Columbia, SC)
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon