Columbia, you won’t have Jeffrey Day to kick around anymore.
The longtime local arts writer, who came to Columbia in 1989 to take a position with The State, has accepted a position with the University of California, Davis. He’ll be the senior public information representative for the arts, humanities and social sciences; he starts April 1.
Day came to Columbia from the Macon Telegraph in Georgia, where he covered pop music during the fertile mid-’80s that gave rise to R.E.M. But his interests leaned more toward the fine arts, and The State hired him for his dual abilities in theater and the visual arts. He worked there until the paper let him go in a round of layoffs almost five years ago. Since then, he’s written as a blogger and a freelancer (including for Free Times); done PR work for the University of South Carolina Arts Institute, Columbia Classical Ballet, Southeastern Piano Festival and USC Symphony; and curated installation exhibitions for Artista Vista. Last year, he served as critic-at-large for the Spoleto Festival in Charleston.
Day has long been known for casting a thorough and critical eye on the local arts scene — “critical” in the sense of critique, but the distinction has often been lost to those being written about. In a city where skins are often thin and mediocrity is often celebrated as greatness, Day has been a much-needed antidote — a reporter and critic who always asked serious questions and expected serious answers in return.
Free Times talked to Day about his time in Columbia and his thoughts on where the city has come and where it’s going. Here are excerpts of his answers.
On Treating the Arts Seriously
“One of the things I tried to do was provide a little more in-depth coverage — not preview every single thing that was going on. Not everything was a story. I tried to look at the arts beat as a news beat as well. And it was a pretty serious beat; there was always a lot going on there. Whether it was finances or trends, every once in awhile you’d have a big blowup about something.”
On the Gallery Scene
“Columbia has never developed much of a commercial gallery scene with galleries putting up real, well-organized exhibitions and actually selling art. I sort of understand why, but it is still disappointing.”
On the Arts and Development
“One of my larger concerns has been how Columbia has developed and how the arts play a role in that … I know you can’t tell a landlord that you can’t rent your property out to some crappy chain bar or restaurant. You can’t do that. [But] Columbia always just seems so desperate: ‘Oh, they actually like us. They’re actually going to move their chain store into our historic district.’ Everybody seems thrilled about it.”
On Attention Paid to the Arts
“When Steve Morrison was running [for mayor in 2010], it became a major thing to talk about. That really was a sea change … and a lot of it has to do with Steve Benjamin. He’s interested, he’s involved, I see him out at things. With things I’ve been involved in, I’ve asked him to come out and be involved, and he has.”
On the Silos in the Local Arts Community
“The problem is, the Columbia arts community has now gotten big enough to be split up into a bunch of different parts. I’ve seen this in Charleston over the years. I think there are a lot of people who go to First Thursday stuff and they consider themselves to be involved in the arts because of that, but they’ve never been inside the [Columbia Museum of Art] or they’ve never been to the 701 Center for Contemporary Art.”
On the Joy of Curating
“That was incredible, working with all these moving parts and talking to the artists ... It was not a simple thing of going into their studio and picking seven or eight works. I didn’t know what they were going to do until they were done. I was better at that sort of thing than I thought I would be.”
On Seeing Journalism from the PR Side
“I think people in PR that I worked with thought I was too demanding and didn’t understand how hard it was to pull information out of curators and artistic directors. Now that I’ve done it, I see their difficulty — but it’s no more difficult that I thought it was … So, no, it hasn’t made me terribly sympathetic to their problems.”
On Being, Or Not Being, in Columbia
“It’s all related to Hamlet, because I got here about a month after there was a performance of Hamlet at USC Theatre. There hasn’t been a full performance of Hamlet the entire time I’ve been here. But one will take place about a week after I leave.”
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