By Damion Smalls
The continual heaps of praise Charleston has accepted in recent years from national and worldwide organizations has placated the city’s majority population and newcomers to the area. To list a few of the accolades, Charleston has been dubbed the number one city in the world by Travel+Leisure, named top small city in the country by Condé Nast Traveler Readers, voted the South’s Best City/Friendliest City/Prettiest City by Southern Living readers, and landed first in the 50 Cities in America for Economic Opportunity rankings by Yelp. However, a 2017 report by Realtor.com exposed the realities that local Blacks has lived with since the initiatives put in place by former Mayor Joe Riley over a four decade period that drastically reduced downtown’s African American population: Charleston is the fastest gentrifying city in the United States.
What Yuqing Pan wrote in the report was presented as if it was a surprising find. “The issue of gentrification exploded in Charleston in 2001, when Shoreview Apartments, a large, low-income housing project downtown, was razed to the ground to make way for an upscale community of single-family homes. Other neighborhoods that had long been solidly African-American working class also saw a shift toward white, middle-class families. Since 1990, Charleston’s black population has declined from 42% to 23%, according to the Census Bureau,” he stated.
Palmetto Rose Project co-founder Scott Sumter has seen how gentrification has affected local Black artists, specifically the ones who sell their Palmetto Rose creations around a city whose officials have made it hard for them to live their best lives and be great. The strict regulation of the those typically young artists who have been targeted by some whites who simply aren’t comfortable with minorities freely being around hasn’t been lost on Sumter. “These artists are just trying to survive. I don’t see how they are hurting anybody,” he says.
“The Palmetto Rose Project came about as a shout-out to the young Black artists working around the City Market that have been displaced. I just wanted to give them somewhere to call home,” Sumter says.
Sumter has high hopes for the Palmetto Rose Project and aims to aspire others to join his cause. “Making those roses is a form of artistic expression. Our project will be a home for artists in Charleston and surrounding areas,” he expresses.
The Palmetto Rose Art Showcase will be held Sunday, April 28 from 3pm to 6pm at North Charleston’s TIA Banquet Hall (3300 Rexton Street). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door or online on Eventbrite. Sumter is inviting Black artists of all disciplines to be featured and treat the showcase as a safe space for Black talent to be appreciated.
The area around TIA Banquet Hall is experiencing a renaissance due to the work of local organizations Metanoia, Lowcountry Local First, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, and intrepid community members. Projects and initiatives are benefitting the residents in the Chicora Cherokee area by keeping the people involved in the process and providing jobs. Revitalization efforts are improving the area without displacing its residents.
TIA’s location off Reynolds Avenue is in close proximity of Black-owned business Dell’z on the Macon, Fresh Future Farm, Caribbean Delight, and Djum Exercise & Dance Studio. The Palmetto Rose Project looks to add to the area’s growth a deeper appreciation of Black artistry and celebration of Black youth.
Eastside native and entrepreneur Kimberly Bowman has seen firsthand how gentrification in downtown Charleston has stripped communities of their essence and history, stating that it has taken away hope from people. “To me, gentrification is very personal. My favorite places to go aren’t there anymore. Everything is being replaced by hotels or condos,” she laments. Bowman has partnered with Sumter to help make the Palmetto Rose Project a reality.
Bowman doesn’t feel as if natives of Charleston, especially the African-Americans, are a priority to the city. “It’s like we’re an afterthought because brand new houses, townhouses, and other things that we can’t afford are being put in the place of things we can afford could be. It’s disappointing, so I really resonated with what Scott is trying to do.”
Charleston is a notoriously hard city for Black artists to thrive in. They often aren’t afforded the same space, promotion, or respect that their white counterparts enjoy, regardless of talent levels. As an example, Neema Fine Art Gallery is the only Black-owned art gallery in the city, which opened on Broad Street in November 2018.
“The more that we remind people even though these white folks are coming in and taking over our neighborhoods, our culture is still here. We are still present and things are happening in our favor. We just have to come together in a positive way to be able to remind each other of that,” Bowman says.
Sumter has designs for the showcase to be monthly event that uses music, visual art, poetry, food, crafts and other aspects to further enlighten Sundays going forward. Rapper Ray DeeZy is set to perform live at the April 28 event.
Monetary donations can be made online in support of the Palmetto Rose Project on GoFundMe. Find the Palmetto Rose Project on Facebook, Instagram, and MailChimp. Artists interested in taking part of the showcase should contact [email protected] for more information.