Four years ago, Tamara LaValla started the Gallery Up art store and studio along with husband Zan Maddox to shed light on an artistic underbelly "not often associated with Rock Hill," said LaValla. But as they gear up for the second annual "Muse Fest," a four-day event filled with an assortment of art and activities, LaValla sees their brainchild as more than a celebration of unfiltered creativity.
"Our tagline is 'demanding art,' which has become our battle cry over the years," LaValla said. "We seek to demand more of our artists in this area. We complain that there's not a lot of art and culture in Rock Hill, so either we can talk about it or demand it from ourselves. That's what Muse Fest is all about."
Nearly 500 people flocked to last year's Muse Fest to purchase a variety of handcrafted pieces of art, as well as attend independent film viewings, live bands and performance art shows.
This year's festival will include the all-new Vendor Craft Market, located in the Gettys Center Courtroom, where 21 different artists will display their for-sale art in 18 vendor booths. From jewelry to paintings to homemade soap, LaValla hopes the sheer variety will attract those outside of the admittedly younger college demographic that have gravitated to Muse Fest in the past. Refreshments come in the form of food trucks manned by Johnson and Wales culinary arts graduates, as well as an array of high-end beers.
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The festival's opening reception was Thursday, and will kick off from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the festival concludes with the Vendor Awards, honoring the top art on display.
A former Winthrop instructor who helped start the university's illustration program for students, LaValla credits her teaching tenure as a "bridge-building" experience that helped her connect to Rock Hill's arts culture. Now, in addition to employing several Winthrop art students at GalleryUp, LaValla and Maddox view their festival as a "dialogue" between fellow artists that emphasizes the tangible practice of creating art by hand.
A practice, LaValla says, that has become a forgotten art of sorts in modern culture.
"I work on computers all day to run this business, but I know how to use my hands to create, and there's a beauty to that which all artists share," LaValla said. "With our society going digital and everybody wanting to get things accomplished as quickly as possible, the idea of taking the time to hone a craft and create something beautiful lies at the heart of Muse Fest. From sculpting clay to painting by hand, it's a practice we must preserve."
Though still in its infancy, LaValla hopes that Muse Fest will only continue to thrive in Rock Hill, which she describes as a more "traditionalist small town." As she looks ahead, LaValla believes the potential for a strong artistic community in the local area is undoubtedly there.
"As traditional as many think this town is, Rock Hill has a lot more support for its artists than one might think," LaValla said. "There's a huge opportunity to make a difference and celebrate diversity here, and we want to work alongside like-minded people to grow this movement, this energy."
For a complete rundown of Muse Fest's events, including times and artists' profiles, visit galleryup.com/Muse Fest/.